Jun 01, 2018 • Jessica Jones
Please note: We are not attorneys and the information below does not constitute legal advice. If you are in need of legal assistance, please speak with an attorney. The text below is for informational purposes only.
In 2016, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that just over forty million Americans, (12.8% of the population) are living with a disability. To put that into context, the entire state of Tennessee has just under seven million residents. Forty million people is a huge market, and yet the vast majority of websites on the internet fail to cater to their needs. As a result, this group of individuals are underserved, and unable to make use of many websites.
To combat this, in 2010 a decision was made that websites now fall within the purview of the ADA, or Americans with Disabilities Act. While codifying website accessibility is a noble ideal, its nebulous wording has opened the door to litigation against website owners for their lack of accessibility. In order to understand how to protect yourself, you need to know the background and context of these laws.
The ADA is a law passed in 1990 that “prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life, including jobs, schools, transportation, and all public and private places that are open to the general public.” While there are multiple parts to the ADA, the part we’re concerned with is “Title III.”
Essentially, Title III requires that any location providing “public accommodation” meets a series of standards to ensure that anyone could make use of them, regardless of their ability level. These standards include things like wheelchair accessible ramps, braille on public signage, and allowing service animals into your location.
When the ADA was first passed, the internet was barely a blip on the radar, so no one thought much about it. By 2010, it had become obvious that the internet was here to stay and could be a hugely useful tool for those with disabilities. Thus, it was decided that websites could now be included as a part of “public accommodation”.
Muddying the water, is the fact that in 1973 the US Rehabilitation was passed, then amended in 1986 and 1998. These amendments are collectively known as Section 508 and concern the accessibility of information technology as related to the Federal Government or any company that does business with the government. In January of 2018 a deadline was enacted requiring all federal websites to become accessible.
What does this have to do with the ADA? It is widely believed that Section 508 will act as a precedent for ADA compliance. In other words, eventually, it is expected that all websites will be required to become compliant.
This is where it gets a little tricky. Neither the ADA or the wording of the 2010 update unequivocally state which websites are required to become compliant. Instead, it has been left for courts to adjudicate as claims are brought against non-compliant websites. In some rulings, the courts have decided that websites with an additional physical presence such as retailers or other brick and mortar based locations are required to maintain compliance. In others, they interpret that law more broadly and state that any website that is publicly available requires compliance.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear things will be made more clear any time soon. Back in 2015, the Department of Justice stated they intended to solidify the criteria of what was required to maintain ADA compliance on a website by 2018. In August of 2017 the DOJ listed the update as an “inactive” item, and has since completely withdrawn it for consideration.
This means that for the foreseeable future, no additional clarifications will be made which allows further lawsuits to be issued against anyone with a website.
In 2008, W3C, the World Wide Web Consortium created a document called the Website Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0. The WCAG was a list of actions a website developer could take to ensure that their site was accessible by those with disabilities.
When determining if a site is compliant or not, the ADA recommends that you follow the guidelines in the WCAG 2.0 to the AA or AAA level. This is difficult, as there are 12 guidelines, and within those guidelines, there are 61 items to test to ensure maximum accessibility.
These guidelines include provisions to ensure that your website can be accessed by those with bad or no vision, the hearing impaired, and those who cannot navigate with a mouse. A brief summary of a few of the guidelines include:
A skilled developer could fix some of these fairly easily. Others could require a complete redesign of your website. If this feels daunting…
The number of lawsuits aimed at websites for being out of ADA compliance has steadily increased over the last five years. Without further clarification of the ADA, this is likely to continue. If you want to ensure that your website is compliant, we recommend speaking with an attorney to see what steps they recommend you take.
At Slamdot, we believe the internet should be accessible to everyone. We’ve been researching, studying, and learning about the ADA requirements so we can better help our clients. Currently, that entails two different solutions:
Through the use of a widget, we can create an accessibility panel on your website that allows the user to customize the appearance of your website on their computer. They can increase font size, color contrast, navigate through the keyboard, and more. This is a fantastic option for those that want to maintain an inclusive web presence while also increasing your ADA compliance. Speak with your attorney to find out if this option is right for you!
For clients with more extensive needs, we also offer a full featured accessibility option that audits your website, scans your posts, pages, media library and more for compliance issues, and then tracks the changes made as we begin resolving these items. Once your site is compliant, it will be monitored to ensure that any update made to the site falls within WCAG guidelines.
Which option you choose may vary based on your needs, your budget, and the recommendation of your attorney. We know that it’s difficult to tackle ADA compliance on your own, so if you have any questions, contact us today!