While websites are commonplace for many businesses, the Finger Lakes Visitors Connection wants to expand the number of users who can interact with them.

At a seminar FLVC held last Friday at the New York Kitchen in Canandaigua, "industry partners" received a lesson in how to change a website to make it "a better overall user experience for everyone," in addition to avoiding litigation and expanding a business's existing customer base, according to a release by the agency.

The hour-and-a-half seminar also fit in with the organization's mission, according to FLVC Director of Marketing and Communications Christen Smith, which was to "educate our tourism industry."

Topics covered in the discussion as led by presenter David Lee included procedures for identifying areas for improvement, along with "optimizing digital content and what questions you should ask your website developer," according to the release.

"Gone are the days of building a website in a simple table, with minimal user research or analytical data," said Lee, who works as the marketing operations manager for the FLVC. "Today, websites are far more sophisticated and personalized to create an exceptional user experience across many platforms."

Members of the audience included volunteers of area organizations, paid staffers and contractors, according to a release from FLVC.

According to data gathered by the CDC, the number of American adults who have disabilities nationally is 61 million. This translates to one in four, or 26% of adults who have some form of disability, based on information last reviewed by the institution in October of 2019. Additionally, 4.6% of adults have a vision disability, which can be categorized as "blindness or serious difficulty seeing."

Another trend documented by the World Health Organization is the increasing rates of disabilities, "due to population aging and increases in chronic health conditions, among other causes," according to a fact sheet from the WHO released in January of 2018.

For Justin Young, there are several reasons why a business should change their website to be more accessible to everyone.

"Things are becoming more online," from shopping to other activities, said Young, who works in the Advocacy Department for the Rochester-based Center for Disability Rights. "If we don't look at this now, it sets a bad tone."

Young said modifying websites to accommodate those with a disability can be beneficial to all, while also avoiding potential lawsuits brought against businesses that don't comply, referring to a series of lawsuits in New York City that targeted businesses that did not have accessible websites.

Aside from mitigating risk and providing more access to online marketplaces, the core reason websites should adapt is because "we want equal access," according to Young.

"It's about equal access for everyone. We need to make sure we can access the websites, same as our peers," Young said.

One way to ensure this access is through the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, according to Young. First established by the World Wide Web Consortium's Web Accessibility Initiative in 1997 according to the organization's website, the goal is to develop "web accessibility guidelines, technical specifications, and educational resources to help make the web accessible to people with disabilities." The group has put out several iterations of its guidelines, with the last version released in June of 2018.

According to Young, following the WCAG is the best way forward for area businesses, since other forms of regulation, including the ADA, have yet to be amended.

For Canandaigua Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Ethan Fogg, having more accessibility for websites from area businesses can be beneficial to all.

In a statement emailed to the Daily Messenger, Fogg wrote how "it is key to the ongoing success of businesses of all sizes and industries to be inclusive of and accessible to all people, many of whom are unlike us in one way or another. On our sales floors, in our dining and guest rooms and online, we need to lower the barriers to access, entry and enjoyment."