If you wonder whether your firm’s website should be ADA compliant, the short answer is yes. While the big picture is more complicated, the reality is continuing to ignore the needs of disabled users could present unnecessary problems and legal risks that can be avoided by updating your website and providing reasonable accommodations.
What is ADA Website Compliance?
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which became law in 1990 and was amended substantially in 2009, contains a set of requirements which businesses must adhere to accommodate individuals who have disabilities. The overall purpose of this civil rights law is to ensure people have equal opportunities and are not discriminated against in public life, jobs, school, housing, transportation, and private locations that are open to the public.
As the internet becomes integral to the way services are delivered to the public, websites have become a site of contention when it comes to the ADA.
In short, ADA website compliance means that your site is accessible to people with disabilities, including but not limited to those with visual or hearing impairment, cognitive impairment, learning disabilities, and those who must navigate websites using voice commands, by allowing for the use of tools such as screen readers and other assistive devices to consume content.
Is Your Firm Legally Subject to ADA Website Compliance?
The answer to this question is still debatable. Presently, if you are a private business with 15+ employees or a company that relies on the public or that benefits the public, you must meet compliance. But if you think this doesn’t apply to you, it’s not that simple.
If the public needs to enter your place of business regularly, you would need to meet physical ADA requirements for access, such as installing ramps in place of stairs. The argument can be made that the public should also be able to access your business through your website. Essentially, websites are considered “places of public accommodation.”
While it may seem like an inconvenience on your part to update your website to meet compliance, the public is increasingly coming to expect it as a common courtesy. Even people who do not require accommodations personally are demanding that the companies they do business with practice fair and equitable treatment towards their fellow Americans with disabilities.
Nearly 50 million adults in the U.S. may have a disability that could require them to use adaptive technologies, and as many as one in three families are touched by disability. In aging populations, such as pre and post-retirees, visual impairment is a rising concern. As many as 12% of Americans ages 45 to 64 and more than 15% of Americans 75 and older have reported vision loss. While many of those people can be helped with corrective lenses, more of your clients and prospects will have website accessibility issues than you may have considered. (1)
Additionally, there has been a flurry of Department of Justice actions, lawsuits, demand letters, and court rulings that increasingly favor digital accessibility and ADA compliance.
So whether you decide to update your website to expand your audience, protect your brand, support the disabled community’s needs, avoid legal issues, or err on the side of caution, meeting requirements rather than resisting them is in your firm’s best interest.
How to Meet ADA Web Accessibility Guidelines
When it comes to ADA website compliance, the rules are not clear cut. Meeting web accessibility guidelines isn’t a simple process; it’s not as easy as flipping a switch or adding a plug-in to your website.
The most comprehensive benchmarks available are published by the World Wide Web Consortium’s (W3C’s) Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), which state that for a website to be accessible, it should be perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust.
No aspect of your website can be available to only one sense, such as vision. The site be easily accessed and processed by screen readers, for example, designed to support the visually impaired, which means all images must include alt text that the screen readers can pick up. Video and audio content should include transcripts and accurate closed captioning.
Your website should be usable and accessible in various ways, such as with a mouse and keyboard, responsive to adaptive technologies like touchscreen or screen readers, and that it should avoid elements that could be seizure triggers, such as flashing lights.
Your website visitors should be able to identify and read the language and content easily. The site should be clearly labeled, well organized, with a well-designed layout, and should not be difficult or confusing to navigate. Any forms or interactive elements should include clear instructions and not be confusing to use.
Your website should be accessible on the current versions of all major web browsers and run on the latest technologies that allow for the use of adaptive technologies, such as screen readers.
Following these standards will demonstrate that your firm has made a good-faith effort towards meeting ‘reasonable’ website accommodations. Familiarizing yourself with ADA requirements and downloading this checklist is an important first step. If you are concerned about ADA compliance, consult an attorney specializing in disability law.