According to the ADA, a person with a disability has a physical or mental condition that significantly hinders their daily life skills. Therefore, ADA compliance is essential to providing an equitable world to people with disabilities because it ensures they can participate in our shared society. Yet the ADA requirements don’t refer to every potential situation, including specific language concerning websites. Nonetheless, ADA accessibility guidelines from the government and courts continually help protect people with disabilities to the full extent of the law.
What is ADA and What Does it Impact?
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 is a body of protective laws for people with disabilities. These laws exist because many businesses only meet the minimal requirements, and many business owners don’t think providing accessibility justifies related costs. In addition, the ADA protects people with disabilities from discrimination and guarantees them equal opportunity in the public and private sectors.
For example, Title III impacts a business’s customer service practices, which explains why accessibility legislation is commonly called ADA Title III. ADA Title III refers to public regions and public accommodations like schools, eating establishments, hospitality locations, physician facilities, retail outlets, museums, and every employment environment.
ADA Compliance Standards Cover Two Main Criteria
1. Employers must accommodate staff members with disabilities, including accessible entryways, restrooms, and proper office furniture and devices.
2. All business types must enable access to their services for customers with disabilities. In addition, they must provide “reasonable modifications” to their buildings, which accommodate people with disabilities, including:
- Wheelchair ramps
- Accessible restrooms
- American Sign Language explanations
- Service animal provisions
Businesses Must Meet These ADA Compliance Requirements:
- Ramp access for wheelchairs and other mobility devices
- Interface mechanisms for visually impaired
- Interpretive devices for the hearing impaired or qualified interpreters
- Service animal provisions
The ADA and Website Accessibility
Physical access elements of the ADA are most familiar to the general public, including wheelchair ramps, smooth crosswalk transitions, and convenient parking spots. However, the law also applies to many overlooked aspects by people without disabilities.
Concerning website disability compliance, the ADA requires government and businesses to provide accessible reading alternatives for people with disabilities. Necessary online services must be accessible to everyone, just like a physical door. The law strives to empower all members of society to participate in our digital and physical spaces. Unfortunately, not everyone understands the importance of digital accessibility— especially those who’ve never been denied access because of a disability.
Websites didn’t exist when the ADA became law in 1990, which explains why its original guidelines only describe physical spaces. Subsequently, this focus on physical space has caused much ambiguity on whether the legislation applies to the digital world and to what extent. Unfortunately, Congress hasn’t updated or amended the ADA—still, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and federal district and circuit courts have stepped in and interpreted the law inclusively. This lack of clarity has resulted in many businesses and government agencies being found liable for inaccessible websites.
How Accessibility Became the New Standard
For decades, people with disabilities faced frequent discrimination regarding employment, housing, schooling, and other social functions. Historically, they generally didn’t and couldn’t get equitable treatment. So, not surprisingly, disability rights emerged around the same time as the American civil rights movement of the 1960s. These efforts continued into the 1970s when activists pressured Congress to encompass civil rights language for people with disabilities. As a result, The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 was passed, prohibiting discrimination against individuals with disabilities in the federal sector.
It’s also important to note that the National Council on Disability, a crucial federal measure, wasn’t formed until 1981. This group’s policy proposal was the foundation of the ADA, which became law nine years later. Congress still needs to pass an amendment to the ADA. Independent bodies provide and update guidelines, and courts tend to accept these standards, making them close to de facto law.
Accessibility isn’t just a disability rights concern for the DOJ—they also see it as a civil rights issue. Congress enacted the ADA to ensure people with disabilities are treated equally to everyone else in society. As many ADA guidelines also include terms like discrimination, integration, and segregation, it’s no coincidence that these words are in tandem with the civil rights movement.
Currently, the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), developed by the W3C, is the best standard cited by the U.S. Courts. In addition, other governments and independent accessibility organizations have created global standards that resemble WCAG.
The 5 Titles of The ADA
Let’s take a brief dip into the five sections of the ADA so you can get a better picture of the law’s intent.
Title I: Employment Law
Title I prevents companies, governments, and unions from discriminating against people with disabilities concerning employment app practices, salary, training, etc. Additionally, Title 1 affects any company with 15+ employees (this includes staffing companies).
Title II: Public Services, State and Local Government:
Title II applies to state and local government entities and public transportation. It ensures that public and government services or programs don’t exclude people with disabilities. One of the essential parts of Title II is the integration mandate, which prevents local and state governments from segregating people with disabilities. The integration mandate extends the prohibition on discrimination established by section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 to all activities of state and local governments regardless of whether they receive federal financial assistance.
Title III: Public Accommodations and Services Operated by Private Entities
Title III applies to privately-run organizations. It requires that spaces within privately-run organizations used for public services be accessible to people with disabilities. This requirement includes locations that fall into numerous ADA classifications, like eating establishments, educational facilities, corporate offices, etc. Additionally, these entities’ services must accommodate people of all abilities.
Even though the accessibility of physical buildings is the most notable result of this title, it’s also been a catalyst for subsequent regulations concerning ADA compliant websites. Many businesses aren’t sure how to make their websites accessible or what level of accessibility is enough—partly because there are so many different types of disabilities.
Title IV: Telecommunications
Title IV targets telephone and television access for people with hearing and speech disabilities. Telephone companies must also provide telecommunications relay services (TRS). These services enable those who rely on teletypewriters (TTYs) to make voice calls. This title also mandates that PSAs with federal funding provide closed captioning.
Title V: Miscellaneous Provisions
Title V covers various ADA elements but primarily forbids retribution against anyone who pursues their ADA rights.
The Rise of ADA Web Compliance Lawsuits
ADA compliance for websites is a serious matter for any responsible business owner, especially considering the proliferation of related lawsuits in recent years. Although the ADA doesn’t explicitly call out website requirements, the DOJ has proactively enforced web accessibility laws. Moreover, federal and state courts have ruled that the ADA and related state statutes apply to inaccessible websites.
Additional Stats Showing the Dramatic Uptick in Legal Action:
- Over 4,000 lawsuits in 2021 – 79% against retail/e-commerce.
- 816 ADA Title III lawsuits in 2017
- 2,200 Title III cases in 2018 (180% increase)
7 Tips for ADA Web Compliance
The tips below will help you develop an ADA compatible website.
1. Integrate Keyboard Navigation
People with diminished mobility struggle to navigate websites with a mouse. Keyboard navigation enables users to scan and jump to content that matters most to them.
2. Provide Alt Text for Website Imagery
Alt text provides hearable image descriptions to screen-readers users with visual disabilities. It also helps users who turn off images due to sluggish internet connections. Concise and straightforward alt text can also positively impact SEO results.
3. Provide Appropriate Website Forms
Identify labels clearly and provide visual cues for form fields that show the information end users need to provide. Users who rely on screen readers also must know if their verifying information is valid or invalid—make sure your forms can report successful submissions or point site visitors back to the incorrect field.
4. Modify Timed Variables Accordingly
End users who use keyboard navigation typically need more time to use a website. Therefore, implement measures that stop time-outs from disrupting the end-user experience.
5. Provide Simple Imagery
Web pages crammed with too much visual content are among the most significant pain points for people with disabilities. Provide more open space and optimize color contrastto ensure digestible content for people of all abilities.
6. Audio and Video Alternatives
Provide corresponding transcripts for audio-only content and captions for all video elements. You can also integrate sign language interpretation for people with various hearing disabilities.
7. Remove Elements That May Cause Seizures
It’s best to avoid flashing imagery that may trigger serious episodes for people with epilepsy or similar medical challenges.
Rely on UserWay For Your ADA Compliance Needs
The AI-Powered UserWay Accessibility Widget can help your website comply with the ADA, the WCAG, and all other related standards. This ADA compliance software also ensures all your new content conforms with legal regulations. In addition, meeting the Americans With Disabilities Act guidelines, as defined by the DOJ, can help enhance your online sales. But at its core, accessibility is about opening your website to all end users, regardless of their abilities, because everyone should experience the digital world equally.
Answers to Common FAQs
What are the Guidelines for ADA website compliance standards?
Currently, WCAG 2.1 is the highest standard to follow for web accessibility when it comes to following federal and related state laws applicable to web accessibility. However, ADA Title III compliance is tricky because the law doesn’t specify how to create an accessible website. And even though the DOJ hasn’t applied an official legal ADA standard, it regularly refers to (WCAG) 2.0 AA as the primary objective.
Do Websites Have to Be ADA-Compliant?
The ADA lacks specific language relating to website disability compliance. But courts increasingly rule that the web must equally accommodate those with disabilities. To that end, American courts now regularly enforce accessibility standards in the digital realm, so making your site ADA-compliant is essential.
Why are ADA Web Compliance Lawsuits Rising?
Naturally, the increasing use of online retail has played a role in the rise of compliance lawsuits. In addition, people of all abilities now readily use the web to conduct their daily activities, increasing the need for accessibility. Increased awareness from notable cases has also made people with disabilities more educated about their rights and legal options. Moreover, younger and emerging generations are more apt to voice their misgivings concerning discrimination and a lack of accessibility.
Please reach out for more details on the UserWay Accessibility Widget or click the link below to start a free trial.