Is Your Website ADA Compliant? Why You Need to Know

Keyboard with different ability icons

November 28, 2017

Please note: We are digital marketers, not attorneys. Therefore, this article is not legal advice. If you need legal advice, you should speak with a lawyer.

More and more, we’ve been hearing about businesses that have been threatened with a lawsuit for having a website that was allegedly not ADA compliant. In some cases, these lawsuits are nothing more than a shakedown for cash.

They allege that the website is not fully accessible to disabled users and that they’d be willing to settle for a small fee. This is because the way the current ADA laws are, it would be difficult to win the suit in court.

But we wouldn’t be writing this article if this were nothing more than a scam…

There are new laws on the horizon that could make ADA compliance mandatory. Meaning businesses, especially in certain verticals, should start preparing now.

What is ADA Compliance?

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a comprehensive civil rights law that was enacted to protect individuals with disabilities from discrimination.

The law covers a wide array of areas, including:

  • State and local government
  • Public and private spaces
  • Employment
  • Building codes
  • Transportation
  • Telecommunication

Title III of the ADA mandates that all “places of public accommodation” (all businesses opened to the public) are legally required to remove any “access barriers” that would hinder a disabled person’s access to that business’s goods or services.

When the ADA was enacted in 1990, “access barriers” was widely understood to mean literal barriers, like stairs that would hinder a customer in a wheelchair from accessing a business, for example.

But then in 2010, the US Department of Justice issued an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking indicating that they intended to amend the language in Title III of the ADA to ensure it would also apply to website accessibility.

This was a big step.

The Internet was only in its infancy when the ADA laws were enacted. Now, more and more people are making purchases and ordering services online.

Since 2010, various courts have heard parts of the DOJ’s argument. The results have been mixed. Some courts have ruled that only websites with goods or services tied to a physical location are considered “places of public accommodation” and would, therefore, be covered by the ADA.

Meanwhile, other courts have more broadly argued that any website offering goods or services online should be considered “places of public accommodation”, even if they don’t have a physical store presence.

A final ruling is expected to be announced sometime in 2018.

It will outline precisely which websites are eligible and what the owners need to do in order to be ADA compliant.

How Do You Make a Website ADA Compliant?

In 2016, the DOJ found University of California Berkeley in violation of ADA Title II (similar to Title III but it instead applies to government organizations) because their YouTube channel’s videos didn’t include captions for hearing impaired visitors – leaving deaf users without equal access to the online content.

The DOJ pointed UC Berkeley to The World Wide Web Consortium’s (W3C) Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0 AA).

Since this ruling, many people believe that the upcoming 2018 laws may use this same set of standards as the new benchmark.

WCAG 2.0 is the technical standard featuring 12 guidelines under four categories:

Perceivable – This category helps ensure that content and media can be used by all. It includes things such as adding captions to videos, contrast in images and text; amongst many other things.

Operable – This category gives guidelines regarding functionality. This could include having a website that can be navigated with a keyboard, allowing moving sections to be paused if a user needs more time, and clearly labeling pages and sections.

Understandable – This category provides guidelines on logical functionality and language. It asks that the language of the page be identifiable programmatically, that navigation be consistent across the site, and that contact forms and other user input areas have ample instructions.

Robust – The last and shortest category is also the most technical. The basic idea is that your code needs to follow current web standards. Also, your code should properly validate (all tags that open should be closed) to ensure assistive technologies can properly understand and render the content.

Without delving too deeply into these guidelines, you can see what types of things that might get your business in trouble.

Not captioning your videos or images is a big one. While having an outdated website could hurt you when it comes to not being up-to-date with the latest coding standards.

What Can You Do Now?

The Department of Justice has made it clear these new legal requirements are on the way, sooner rather than later.

Some of the accessibility guidelines require more technical experience, but overall the guidelines align with web design best practices: 

1. Make your content available in different forms for different devices and audiences.

2. Make your website logical and easy to use.

3. Make your website technically sound.

Are you unsure if your website has accessibility issues? Our expert web developers and designers can look at your website and help identify areas that will need to be addressed before these new compliance laws come into effect.

Call us today at (407) 682-2222 for a free consultation.

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