The Importance Of Investor Relations Website Compliance
September 8, 2022
Published by Jennifer Hammers
Share this blog post
Investor relations communications have moved from almost entirely paper-driven, to digital. As that trend continues and technology recreates itself, the laws governing accessibility requires public companies in the U.S., and Canadian corporate and government agencies; the ultimate goal is the creation of websites that are digitally inclusive and compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 and the Accessible Canada Act (ACA) of 2019.
Unfortunately, many companies don’t stay on top of their IR site compliance. Here, we will explain the importance and steps of website accessibility, and how you can maintain inclusion without barriers for all your visitors.
Why Do IR Websites Need To Be Accessible?
Imagine a scenario where you have landed a free ticket to attend the most sought-after event in the history of Earth [whatever that might be in your brain]. You are thrilled by the prospect of being one of only a few thousand people on the planet who will experience this exciting event.
Once you get there, however, you realize that your ticket only gets you into a sensory depravation room where you cannot see nor hear what everyone else at the event is able to experience first-hand.
For many people who live with varying levels of visual or hearing impairment, this kind of scenario, while not as extreme as the fictional one above, is commonplace.
But it’s 2022, and the business world increasingly turns toward the idea that Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) is a key imperative to success. Businesses around the world, large and small, are realizing that leaving an entire audience high and dry is not a good foundation on which to build and grow a company. Making certain that potential shareholders, stakeholders, and investors are invited to learn about your company is the right thing to do.
Government entities are getting serious about inclusion, as well; consider this statistic: In the U.S., ADA compliance related lawsuits have risen by 255% within the last five years.
It has been estimated that 20% of the population has impairment needs, but only 2% of the internet has accessible websites for those with physical and cognitive impairment; considering the vastness of the Worldwide Web, that’s not very impressive.
According to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website, 61 million people in the U.S. are living with disabilities. People who were teenagers or older in 1990 probably remember when the Americans with Disabilities Act was signed into law, ushering in a new way of thinking, when it came to people with disabilities. Government buildings were required to be accessible with those with mobility challenges, and corporate America soon fell in line, as well.
Wheelchair-accessible ramps and doorways were altered to accommodate visitors and workers throughout the land; also included in these changes were people with varying degrees of hearing and sight impairments, as well. Shortly thereafter, you may remember noticing that places like elevators and hotel rooms offered Braille, and audio was added in numerous places for people whose sight was compromised.
Now, consider how the internet is like a building: The vast majority of websites do not conform to users with disabilities, including people with motor skill, cognitive, and speech challenges. Online entry isn’t necessarily guaranteed. That is changing and will continue to do so.
On March 18 of this year, the Department of Justice released new guidelines on accessibility. In its report, the agency noted that the ADA's requirements do apply to goods and/or services, as well as all activities and/or privileges offered by public accommodations, including website offerings. The guidelines included characteristics of inaccessible websites for disabled people, including:
Poor color contrast, and/or reliance on color to provide information (for people who have issues with color blindness)
Missing text alternatives, also known as alt-text, on website images
Videos where there are no captions provided
Online forms that are not available for people with auditory or vision challenges
Keyboard navigation options rather than mouse-directed
The Department of Justice concluded that businesses open to the public must be able to provide communication options to everyone when it comes to company websites and online marketplaces.
What Accessibility Means For Business Audiences
Before we get into details about the various technologies involved in compliance, let’s take a look at the advantages of IR site accessibility for your company, your shareholders and investors, and your clients/customers.
First, it’s the law; public companies who don’t provide alternate site accessibility can and will be held responsible for not complying. It’s that simple. Being compliant keeps businesses away from costly fines and lawsuits, so unless your company has a penchant for losing money, you’ll need to produce a compliance plan. (We will offer help at the end of this article, so stay with us.)
Second, if you could find a new way to open up your company’s services or products to an audience that increases by 20% than your current one has, would you give that way a try? Of course, you would. Opening up your IR site to ADA/ACA compliance has the potential to do just that, because that’s roughly the percentage of people who are looking for companies that includes them. Let’s hear it for brand awareness!
Third, as far as Investor Relations are concerned, websites are considered to be the most important and trusted place in which to find information about a company. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, businesses around the world had to pivot to online information.
Today’s reality includes a strong expectation that the user experience for all current and potential investors is as complete and seamless as possible, without barriers for those who live with any level of impairment. In other words, it is up to all businesses to remove any and all barriers that preclude the estimated 1.3 billion people in the world living with impairment challenges may experience online.
IR Site Compliance Terms To Know
So, now that you have the background and reasoning behind why IR sites must maintain compliance with ADA/ACA laws, it’s time to discover what companies need in order to provide people with disabilities equal access to information.
WCAG: Short for Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, WCAG is the standard by which web accessibility laws in most companies worldwide. The 440 people who set the guidelines work on behalf of business leaders, non-profits, colleges and universities, governments, and regulated industries, among others. The protocols involve web tools that work in conjunction with each other; there are three standards that bring websites to compliance: A, AA, and AAA.
Accessibility was the earliest the committee addressed in 1999; the guidelines were updated and revised in 2008 when WCAG 2.0 was issued, and then again in 2018, which are the guidelines businesses use today. WCAG’s primary focus is on creating HTML coding that provides accessibility. Countries around the world have adopted WCAG standards, with some governments requiring that all websites to comply with the standards; other countries require compliance only for their government’s online entities.
Today, newer versions of these guidelines exist: WCAG 2.1 and WCAG 2.2. The latter version is expected to be released in December 2022.
WCAG guidelines are based on four principles (often referred to as POUR):
Perceivable - Information and user interface components must be presented to users with disabilities in ways that they can perceive. For example, it’s important to present information that can be perceived in different ways, where a user can adjust color contrast or font size, or view captions for videos.
Operable - User interface components and navigation must be operable to users in ways they can operate. For example, required interactions can be performed using keyboard or voice commands.
Understandable - Information and user interface operation must be understandable.For example, information and instructions are clear and navigation methods are easy to understand and use.
Robust - Content must be robust enough so that it can be interpreted reliably by a wide variety of users and types of assistive technologies. As technologies evolve, code and content should remain accessible for users of common and current assistive devices and tools.
Section 508: According to Wikipedia, the US Congress amended the Rehabilitation Act in 1997 “to require Federal agencies to make their electronic and information technology accessible to people with disabilities.” From that amendment, Section 508 was included to “eliminate barriers in information technology, to make available new opportunities for people with disabilities, and to encourage development of technologies that will help achieve these goals.”
An overview of Section 508 technological standards include:
Software applications and Operating Systems, including accessibility to software (such as keyboard navigation & focus via a web browser)
Web-based intranet and internet information applications that provide accessibility for all to web content
Telecommunications products that provide accessibility for devices like cell phones or voice mail systems, including compatibility with hearing aids, listening devices, and other tools used by hearing impaired people (like TTY)
Videos or multimedia products that provide captioning and audio description of multimedia products
Products that end users cannot use or connect to their own technology tools, like information kiosks, copiers, and/or fax machines
ADA Title III: Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act requires virtually every U.S. business that provides goods and services to the public to make its products and facilities accessible to individuals with disabilities.
As Promised… Help with IR Site Compliance
We would be remiss if we didn’t mention that ACCESSWIRE’s parent company, Issuer Direct Corp. (NYSE: ISDR) now offers a product that allows companies to be in ADA/ACA Compliance. IR Site Pro is an innovative platform that raises the bar for investor relations website management.
IR Site Pro offers a robust, user-friendly content management system that allows you to make edits to your own content 24/7/365, rather than waiting for someone else to make changes for you. Other features, including sleek new design templates, expanded color palates and fonts, and Alt Image Text enhancements that will breathe new life into your brand.
IR Site Pro is ADA and ACA compliant and is available either to existing customers whose IR websites are already hosted by Issuer Direct, or to customers needing a new, state of the art Investor Relations website. For more information, or to schedule a demo of IR Site Pro, click here.