An Overview of the Americans with Disabilities Act

An Overview of the Americans with Disabilities Act



The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a landmark legislation signed into law in 1990. Importantly, it forbids discrimination against people with disabilities in every aspect of public life. Upon reflection, it’s hard to overstate how critical the ADA is to provide a fair and just society for everyone. But what exactly does the act cover, and how does it relate to digital accessibility? 

Read on for these answers and get tips on complying to help mitigate legal risks. But first, we provide more on what the ADA covers. 

What is Covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act? 

The ADA grants civil rights protections to people with disabilities, much like those that protect based on color, gender, the nation of origin, age, and religious faith. 

Five distinct titles comprise the ADA, as follows:

  • Title I: Mandates that people with disabilities have access to the same employment opportunities and benefits as people without them.
     
  • Title II: Explains how section 504 requirements apply to state and local governments.
  • Title III: Prohibits private places that accommodate the public from discriminating against people with disabilities.
  • Title IV (Telecommunications): Regulated by the FCC, it requires telephone and Internet companies to enable people with hearing and speech conditions to communicate using phones. In addition, Title IV requires federally-funded PSAs to provide closed captioning.

The ADA isn’t the only Act concerning people with disabilities. You should also understand these other relevant pieces of legislation:

  • The Rehabilitation Act
  • Voting Accessibility for the Elderly and Handicapped Act
  • Fair Housing Act
  • Air Carrier Access Act

The ADA has made the physical world more livable for people with disabilities. But this critical population segment also needs online environments and digital devices to thrive in today’s society, just like people without disabilities. 

So, How Does The ADA Apply to Digital Accessibility?

Imagine a public building with stair access to your second-floor destination. If this building has no ramp or elevator to accommodate people with mobile disabilities, it doesn’t conform to Title III of the ADA. Likewise, If your website isn’t digitally accessible, you’re effectively ignoring the needs of people with disabilities, the world’s largest minority group by population (over 1 billion people). Nonetheless, the ADA has no specific language relating to digital assets, which can complicate things for companies trying to comply.

What’s the best rule of thumb? First, conform to WCAG 2.1 AA, which courts increasingly enforce in accessibility-related lawsuits. WCAG is the top standard for digital accessibility, and complying with it should help protect you legally. In addition, the Department of Justice (DOJ) published further guidance in 2022 on web accessibility concerning the ADA.

What Are the Legal Risks for Non-Compliance?

Make no mistake. Websites without digital accessibility face substantial risk with the recent uptick in related legal action. Plaintiffs sued over 4,000 organizations for non-compliance in 2022 alone— and the courts don’t spare smaller companies from costly legal fines just because they have smaller budgets and limited resources. 

Ultimately, the responsibility lies in your hands, but this blog isn’t a scare tactic. On the contrary, using web best practices can help ensure your site is accessible and compliant. 

Read through the tips below for further guidance. 

5 Tips to Help Conform to the Americans with Disabilities Act

1. Content Readability

Simply put, your website content must be straightforward for every end user to read. Proven solutions include digitally accessible fonts, clear, bold section headers, bulleted lists, and intuitively described buttons. Integrating these elements makes it easier for people with disabilities to skim for the content and products they need, and their markup ensures that screen readers announce them properly as well. 

2. Simple Navigation

People with motor impairments use keyboards (tab and arrow keys) to navigate websites. Avoid traps like pop-up ads that a mouse can’t close. WCAG advises that buttons and icons should be 150×150 pixels. These dimensions expand the clickable area for people with motor challenges, simplifying their user experience. 

3. Proper Color Contrast

Contrast can significantly impact UX for people with visual impairments. That’s why a bold contrast between text and background is critical. For instance, pale yellow text over a white background is complex for any end user to read and can be particularly hard for those with color perception issues. Therefore, the WCAG recommends a minimum color contrast of 4.5:1 for text. 

4. Offer Captions & Transcripts

Much like image alt text, captions are text alt for video content. Likewise, transcripts do the same for audio-only content (e.g., podcasts).

5. Consistently Provide a Current Accessibility Policy

This policy shows your ongoing commitment to digital accessibility, instilling trust in people with disabilities while keeping your team focused. That said, ensure this policy is digitally accessible and readily available to all end users. 

Conclusion: Legislation Isn’t Enough

Even though legislation is moving the needle, the fight to make the world a more accessible place will take time and effort. It isn’t something that will happen overnight, and all of the regulations, acts, and laws won’t ensure 100% accessibility or compliance. Remember, the ADA is a springboard to build upon that safeguards people’s fundamental rights—but it takes a lot more than that to create a universally accessible world. It shouldn’t take legislation and potential litigation to move companies in the right direction. However, in some cases, it does take a lot to make people care enough to change.

One way you can change is by creating a website everyone can use. Learn how UserWay has the solutions you need. 

UserWay: Digital Accessibility For a Better World

While the legislation meets people’s needs, why not lead the accessibility charge? Make your website WCAG 2.1 compliant, install the UserWay widget, and stay current on the digital accessibility conversation on social media. Just a few small steps toward accessibility can make a huge difference!

Reach out to an accessibility expert right away!

Common FAQs

What is a Disability under the ADA? 

According to the ADA, people with disabilities have conditions that significantly limit at least one crucial daily activity. ADA-covered disabilities apply to people with a history of said condition, even if they no longer have it. They also apply to those others perceived to have an impairment (such as a person with severe burn scars).

Does the ADA Cover Mental Health?

If an employee or candidate has a mental disability substantially hindering one life activity, they have workplace rights under the ADA.

What Disabilities are Covered Under ADA? 

See below for a list of disabilities covered under the ADA, provided they substantially limit one or more major life activities. 

Physical disabilities include:

  • Diabetes
  • Epilepsy
  • Blindness
  • HIV / AIDS
  • Paralysis

Mental disabilities covered under ADA. Note that whether a particular mental health condition is covered under the ADA depends on the individual case and the severity of the condition.

  • Depression
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Manic depression
  • Schizophrenia
  • Panic conditions
  • Anxiety conditions
  • Stress disorders
  • PTSD
  • OCD
  • Traumatic brain wounds



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