It was ”trial by fire,” so to speak, that led Juan Vides, CEO of TechACS Corp., a web design and SEO firm in Garden City, into a niche that could potentially represent half his revenues by year-end.
Last year a former TechACS client was being sued for $100,000 by a plaintiff alleging the client’s website wasn’t accessible for people with disabilities.
He came to Vides to help him upgrade his site.
“This was brand-new to me,” said Vides, 42, who had to quickly familiarize himself with web accessibility standards.
Within a short period of time, two more clients came to him for similar help after also being sued, and since then Vides has gotten referrals from attorneys whose clients needed to upgrade their sites following lawsuits.
Now “60 percent of my clients are attorneys,” says Vides.
This makes sense considering web accessibility lawsuits nearly tripled in number from 2017 to 2018, from 814 to 2,258, according to Seyfarth Shaw.
Last year was “definitely not an anomaly,” says Minh Vu, a Seyfarth Shaw partner in Washington, D.C. “There were a number of pro-plaintiff court rulings in accessibility cases in 2018 and 2019, which have further fueled the lawsuit craze.”
The main issue is whether the plaintiff is able to access the goods and services that are offered on a website, she says.
Suits have claimed that, for instance, a blind or deaf person could not access information on a website because the sites aren’t compatible with assistive technology such as software that reads text aloud. The lawsuits are based on an interpretation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which requires that the goods and services of public accommodations be accessible to disabled people, says Vu.
Long-awaited Department of Justice regulations governing website accessibility have been tabled, leaving companies with no clear legal guidance about what’s required of them, she says. There are voluntary guidelines issued by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) that companies can follow, and that’s what Vides references when upgrading client sites.
He charges on average generally between $5,000 and $10,000 to upgrade a site to conform with web accessibility standards, depending on the site’s size and complexity.
Some of the features added to make a site more accessible include adding alternate text in images, which will help assistive screen-reader technologies to read aloud the image description; adding text inside links; and changing text and background colors in order to make it visible to those with colorblindness.
“It is recommended that companies get ahead of the issue before they’re sued,” says Doug Rowe, a law partner at Certilman Balin Adler & Hyman in East Meadow. “Compliance can typically be achieved by website upgrades and testing software…so it makes sense for companies to have their websites reviewed before it’s too late.”
Rowe has referred clients to Vides.
“Juan is extremely knowledgeable in the area of ADA website compliance,” he says, adding Vides is “passionate about his work and takes pride in his website design services.”
Vides started out in computer repair but soon realized he liked building websites more. He started consulting in 2003 and started his business formally in 2009. He started with web design and eventually expanded into search engine optimization and online reputation management.
“I’ve grown by becoming adaptable,” says Vides, who has had to do that in his own life. He emigrated to the United States with his parents at the age of 4 to escape war in El Salvador.
The Vides family was granted amnesty by President Ronald Reagan in 1986 with the passage of the Immigration Reform and Control Act, and at age 16 Juan became a U.S. citizen.
“I wanted to be prepared to vote when I turned 18,” says Vides, who ran unsuccessfully for the State Assembly last year but still got close to 46 percent of the vote.
“He’s a family man, a businessman, and his priority is people not politics,” says former Assemb. Harvey Weisenberg, a mentor to Vides.
Vides recently upgraded the Harvey and Ellen Weisenberg Foundation website so it conformed to web accessibility standards. The foundation advocates for people with special needs.
Moving forward, Vides hopes to educate companies on website accessibility, and he has launched a web portal to do that: adarules.com.
He said pivoting to this niche — which now represents 15 percent of his business — wasn’t a stretch with his tech background.
For companies looking to pursue new markets it helps if you can leverage off your existing strengths or skill sets, says Liz Bentley of Liz Bentley Associates, a leadership development and executive consulting firm in Cold Spring Harbor. “You need to leverage the knowledge you already have,” she says, noting this might mean learning new skills.
Listening to your clients and hearing what their needs are can help you pivot in the right direction, she says.
Vides says that’s what he’s done and will continue to do.
“With technology you have to stay ahead,” he says. “If you don’t, you become a dinosaur.”