Note: We at Logic Solutions are not attorneys and this blog post should not be considered legal advice. To read the full text of the Americans with Disabilities Act, please see: https://www.ada.gov/2010_regs.htm
How does ADA apply to websites?
Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in places of public accommodation, including restaurants, movie theaters, schools, day care and recreational facilities, and doctors’ offices. All public places, as well as privately owned commercial facilities, are required to comply with ADA standards.
When the law was enacted in 1990, it did not specifically address website accessibility for the disabled, but this has become a much-discussed topic in recent years. In 2006, Target settled a class action lawsuit alleging Target.com was inaccessible to the blind, in violation of the ADA, and in 2015 both Reebok and the NBA were hit with a class action lawsuit that alleged their websites did not accomodate the blind and visually impaired.
The question of ADA’s exact wording comes down to two issues: 1) whether the ADA applies to a website at all, and 2) if ADA applies only to websites that have a physical connection to goods and services available at a physical store or location, or if it applies to all websites even if they don’t have physical spaces. Courts are split on these issues but one thing is for certain: the tide is moving toward ADA compliance for websites, and the lack of specific legal wording prohibiting web discrimination has not stopped businesses from being sued.
For federal institutions, Section 508 makes it very clear that all federal-related websites must be accessible to all individuals, with and without disabilities. For private commercial websites, the Department of Justice (DOJ), which enforces the ADA, has made it clear that it interprets the ADA as applicable to websites. In 2010, the DOJ issued an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to specifically ensure all websites, public and private, are subject to ADA compliance. The DOJ’s proposed amendments to the ADA were initially expected in Spring of 2016 but have now been pushed back to 2018.
Notwithstanding the lack of regulatory guidance, enforcement actions are still ongoing. In 2015, the DOJ received 6,391 accessibility complaints – a 40% increase from the previous year. In 2015 and 2016, website compliance litigation filed by advocacy groups and plaintiff law firms have similarly seen a significant rise.
What does this mean for website owners?
Though the official announcement has yet to come, website and business owners need to proactively plan to make their sites accessible to users with disabilities. Here are some steps that you can take to become ADA compliant:
- Create, adopt, and maintain a web accessibility policy consistent with prevailing standards.
- Review the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 for details about making websites accessible to a wider range of people with disabilities, including blindness and low vision, deafness and hearing loss, learning disabilities, cognitive limitations, limited movement, speech disabilities, and photosensitivity.
- Hire a third-party consultant to conduct a thorough website audit to determine what features might be lacking and develop a list of recommendations for implementing necessary updates.
- Consider hiring website development experts who can help you enact these updates and ensure that your website is ADA compliant, has an optimized user experience, and works with existing assistive technologies.
- Implement training for internal web and content development personnel on ADA and WCAG 2.0 guidelines.
Why do I need a web development expert to help me update my site?
An ADA-compliant website isn’t just about having an easier navigation, making text content readable, or sufficiently contrasting colors in graphics, although these are huge components of being accessible. The website and content must also be scalable and robust enough to work with current and future assistive technologies.
Examples of common website elements that need to be accessible include:
- Images: Graphics all need to include “alternative text”, an invisible code embedded to make it possible for assistive technologies to access information that explains the content of the image.
- Videos: Text transcripts or captions of videos should be made available.
- Colors: The colors of all elements on the site should be sufficiently contrasting so that information is easy to read. Additionally, any information in color (e.g. graphs, buttons) should be labeled in such a way that users can understand the color information without color.
- Form Labels: All forms with editable fields should be clearly labeled outside of the field itself. For example, a search bar should have a “Search” label before the the field itself instead of inside the field box or after.
- Stylesheets: Website stylesheets are used to control a site’s layout and presentation and should be specially coded to ensure the site’s presentation is optimally retained. Stylesheets should also use relative rather than absolute units.
- Keyboard: All content functions should be operable through a keyboard interface, such as using unmodified arrow or tab keys.
It is clear that complying with WCAG 2.0 guidelines can quickly become very technical and difficult to implement properly. A web development expert with a long experience in creating custom web solutions would be the best person to ensure your website meets ADA standards.
Is my website compliant right now?
WCAG 2.0 has a list of tools that you can use to check if your website meets accessibility guidelines. But, of course, online tools are no substitute for a human expert.
Want to optimize your website?
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Jennifer Pan is a mild-mannered digital marketing coordinator at Logic Solutions by day and a daring stuntwoman, swordfighter, and aerialist by night. She is known to run off with the circus on the weekends. Her attempts to convince her marketing coworkers to join her for aerial silks classes have been unsuccessful though.