ADA Compliance & Website Accessibility
In 2015 there were a total of 57 filed federal lawsuits regarding website inaccessibility. During the first 8 months of 2017 over 432 cases were filed. Of the 751 lawsuits filed over the three year period 47% were against retail companies and 24% were against restaurants.
Numbers provided by Seyfarth Shaw who tracked the ADA Title III lawsuits filed in federal courts
What is the ADA?
The Americans with Disabilities Act started out as a law to ensure that services in the physical world were accessible to people with disabilities. As the internet has become such an important tool for providing access to services, the scope of the law expanded. Today the ADA also covers services offered “via the Internet, specifically at sites on the World Wide Web.” So, the ADA applies to websites… and is enforceable by the Department of Justice or through private lawsuits.
Today the ADA also covers services offered “via the Internet, specifically at sites on the World Wide Web.”
Initially, the law applied primarily to government agencies and municipalities. This also changed over time, and it expanded to cover places of public accommodation. If you check out what exactly a “place of public accommodation” is, you will find that essentially any business that provides a service or a product, that anyone in the public may want, qualifies as a “place of public accommodation.”
The ADA is the reason that every business open to the public has accessible parking and an accessibility ramp. It is why every ATM has braille on the keypad. The website is just another extension of a business, and it essentially needs to be thought of as a brick and mortar establishment. Similar accommodations need to be made to ensure that the information and services offered by the site are accessible to anyone who wants to access it.
What rules apply to websites?
The biggest problem today is that ADA Compliance, and how it applies to websites, is just how incredibly vague and cryptic the official information is. The rules actually promote better code, more consistency, and more user-friendly websites. Nobody sets out to have a site that is NOT accessible to everyone. The problem is that most people don’t understand the steps that can be taken to make a website “accessible,” nor the legal ramifications.
The ADA refers to the latest WCAG Guidelines, so that can be thought of as the “rulebook.” It isn’t all that clearly laid out, unfortunately, but one key takeaway is that there are three levels to strive for, depending on how accessible you want (or need) your site to be:
- A – the most basic level of web accessibility (Priority 1 of WCAG)
- AA – addresses the most significant barriers for users with disabilities (Priority 2 of WCAG)
- AAA – Significant improvements to web accessibility (priority 3 of WCAG)
We recommend every business at least strives for level A compliance, and anyone named explicitly in the definition of places of public accommodation should look at AA and possibly AAA depending on the site content.
We recommend every business at least strives for level A compliance
How do sites become ADA Compliant:
We have put together a simplified checklist which attempts to translate the requirements here:
WhatArmy’s ADA Compliance Checklist
Our checklist is based on the official WCAG checklist which can be found by following the link below:
The good news is that the rules that the ADA points to are industry standards that have been around for quite some time. In most cases, if a site is relatively current, some simple changes can be made to bring it into some level of compliance. Moreover, if a site can’t be brought into compliance, there are usually much larger website issues that need to be addressed.
From a legal standpoint, every site owner should have accessibility in the back of their minds at this point. Any company or business that serves the public, educational, medical, or municipal communities should take a close look at where they stand and try to address any significant issues. Any restaurant, hotel, service provider, or store owner should do the same.
If clients have questions about how to meet specific criteria, we can absolutely help. We can also help assess things and tell them where they stand. However, we are not lawyers, so if there are specific legal questions, you should speak with your legal team about particular concerns on how this all relates to your business.