As a digital agency, you have the important responsibility of helping a wide variety of clients manage their online presence — and few digital assets are more important than a client’s website. This is especially true in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, when more people are making purchases online in an effort to slow the spread.

In fact, research has determined that it takes internet users a mere 50 milliseconds to form an opinion when visiting a website. The design and promotional work that digital agencies do to create a quality website can literally make or break a client’s online success.

While most agencies understand and adhere to commonly accepted web design principles, many are not as good at developing ADA-compliant websites. ADA stands for Americans Americans with Disabilities Act, so if a website does not accommodate the needs of people with disabilities, your clients could face lawsuits based on this important legislation.

The COVID-19 pandemic makes this problem even more pronounced. People with disabilities need to be able to access the online world, because going outside could be a matter of life or death. Agencies have a responsibility to ensure that these individuals can access news, e-commerce and other essential resources.

Otherwise, the increased stress and anger many are feeling could make them more likely to sue. While such lawsuits will certainly hurt your clients, they also pose a major threat to your agency.

1. Passing on the costs

One of the most immediate risks stemming from an ADA lawsuit is that your client will pass on the costs to you by serving you with a lawsuit of their own. Just last year, rental car company Hertz sued its former marketing agency, citing “seriously deficient” website and app design. In the eyes of the client, the unacceptable work qualified as breach of contract.

Now consider what would happen if your web design work resulted in a client getting served with a lawsuit. ADA lawsuits are on the rise as more lawyers test the legislation’s application to the digital world. The first half of 2019 saw a 12 percent increase in federal ADA lawsuits related to digital assets in comparison to the same period a year before.

One of the most recent high-profile ADA lawsuits involved Domino’s, which appealed to the Supreme Court after it was sued by a blind customer who was unable to order using the website or app. The Supreme Court declined the petition, leaving the company potentially liable for millions.

If your website design put your client on the hook for a multimillion dollar lawsuit, you could be almost certain that they would sue you (since you were ultimately responsible for the design flaw), potentially sinking your entire agency.

2. Losing credibility

An analysis of over 10,000,000 web pages by accessiBe shows that accessibility compliance is anything but widespread. Of the tested websites, 98 percent failed to meet WCAG guidelines for accessible menus.

In addition, 89 percent had noncompliant popups, while 83 percent had noncompliant buttons. Even for images, where the inclusion of alt text is compliance and viewed as a solid SEO practice, only 48 percent of websites met requirements.

For some digital agencies, this might offer a false sense of security. “If nobody else is doing it, why should I worry about it?” In reality, however, such failures indicate a lack of understanding of today’s digital needs.

If a potential client were to ask about your accessibility measures and you didn’t know what needed to be done to make a site ADA-compliant, you would instantly lose credibility, and that client would likely go elsewhere. That credibility loss would be even more pronounced in the midst of an ADA lawsuit.

3. Not delivering expected results

While lawsuits get most of the attention from digital ADA compliance issues, the fact remains that the vast majority of disabled customers aren’t going to file a lawsuit if they can’t access your client’s site.

Instead, they’ll take their business elsewhere. The 2019 Click-Away Pound survey revealed that businesses in the United Kingdom lost £17.1 billion in that year alone because of the millions of internet users who abandoned websites because of accessibility barriers.

In the United States, mobility disabilities affect one in seven people. Many others have difficulty seeing or hearing online content, and if a website presents any barriers, they will go to another retailer.

Failure to produce ADA-compliant digital assets will likely result in lost revenue for your clients.  A lawsuit will likely result in even more lost revenue for the client. When your efforts fail to live up to their expectations, it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise if your contract gets cancelled.

4. Not all press is good press

Many digital agencies use case studies touting their results as a way of gaining new clients. Targeted case studies can reveal your niche expertise, provide valuable social proof and help you gain new leads.

Now consider how ADA compliance lawsuits could affect your ability to produce winning case studies. Instead of highlighting how you helped grow a business, you might instead find yourself doing damage control as you try to fix things for your client or address your own lawsuits.

With your clients losing revenue from the lawsuit and associated negative publicity, you also won’t have good results to draw from for the creation of positive case studies.

Rather than generating positive media for your agency that helps you gain new customers, the negative press will have a lasting harmful impact on your ability to attract and retain clients — even if the rest of your work is truly top-notch.

Focus on ADA compliance, protect your agency

In the midst of helping your clients avoid newbie SEO mistakes and creating an attractive website design, you must not ignore the importance of ADA compliance. By ensuring that clients’ websites meet the accessibility needs of those with disabilities, you will help them improve sales and avoid costly lawsuits. And those happy clients are what will keep you in business.

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