In the present context, where work from home has become the norm, the importance of websites for businesses and daily client interactions has grown exponentially. Ensuring your website serves all your clients equally is more critical than ever.
A Brief Overview of ADA Compliance and its Application to the Internet
Under Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, all websites belonging to federal, state, and local governments must conform to accessibility standards. The law was amended in 2001 to include internet and intranet information and applications.
Though there’s ambiguity around regulations for private companies, recent legal developments have highlighted the need for compliance. Two significant cases, Gil v. Winn-Dixie Stores, Inc. in 2017, and Robles v. Domino’s Pizza, LLC in 2019, indicated the potential application of ADA regulations to corporate websites. Both cases led to a surge in lawsuits against websites that fail to comply with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1.
The ADA does offer exemptions for private clubs, religious organizations, and small businesses employing less than 15 individuals. Yet, it also mandates businesses, regardless of size, to make reasonable efforts to cater to customers with disabilities. However, the act lacks specificity on what constitutes “reasonable efforts”.
Title III of the ADA addresses public accommodations for private businesses and nonprofits, stating that it generally applies to any “(1) Public accommodation; (2) Commercial facility; or (3) Private entity that offers examinations or courses related to applications, licensing, certification, or credentialing for secondary or postsecondary education, professional, or trade purposes.”
Notably, websites offering educational materials are directly mentioned in the law. For other businesses, it could be argued that a company’s website is a “public accommodation” of the company. Various Circuit Courts of Appeals have different interpretations regarding whether public accommodations should apply to websites.
In 2018, in response to Congress’s request for clarification, Assistant Attorney General Stephen E. Boyd wrote:
“…The Department first articulated its interpretation that the ADA applies to public accommodations’ websites over 20 years ago. This interpretation is consistent with the ADA’s title III requirement that the goods, services, privileges, or activities provided by places of public accommodation be equally accessible to people with disabilities.
Additionally, the Department has consistently taken the position that the absence of a specific regulation does not serve as a basis for noncompliance with a statute’s requirements. Absent the adopting of specific technical requirements for websites through rulemaking, public accommodations have flexibility in how to comply with the ADA’s general requirements of nondiscrimination and effective communication. Accordingly, noncompliance with a voluntary technical standard for website accessibility does not necessarily indicate noncompliance with the ADA.
We very much appreciate the concerns regarding the impact that the risk of litigation has on covered entities. The Department remains committed to safeguarding accessibility for individuals with disabilities while also working with covered entities to ensure compliance with the ADA is feasible and sustainable. Given Congress’ ability to provide greater clarity through the legislative process, we look forward to working with you to continue these efforts.”Stephen E. Boyd, Assistant Attorney General
This statement suggests that the DOJ is reluctant to interpret the law definitively, and Congress is responsible for bringing clarity through the legislative process.
In the absence of clarity from the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial branches of government, many private industries face these issues in litigation.
The takeaway? Although it might not be legally required for your website to be ADA-compliant, it could be in the future and is generally advisable.
Top 5 Recommendations to Make Your Website ADA Compliant
Ensure Your Website is Responsive
Many individuals with disabilities prefer browsing the internet on a tablet or smartphone. Your website should adapt to different screen sizes and formats. Features like hover effects that work well on desktops might not function on touchscreen devices, so alternative mechanisms like focus should be available.
Responsive websites are commonplace for most website platforms.
Implement User-Friendly Navigation
Site navigation should cater to users with visual impairments. Tab navigation allows these users to navigate your website using keyboard shortcuts, often relied upon by screen readers.
Properly Use Labels, Titles, and Alt Tags
Visual elements on your website, like buttons, images, and icons, must be accurately labeled to be identifiable and interactable by all devices and tools.
Consider Element Spacing & Sizing
Small buttons can pose a challenge for individuals with conditions like tremors or a lack of hand-eye coordination. Adding padding to elements and margins around them can create a more accessible interface.
Prioritize Readability & Color Contrast
Ensure all text is always text. Using contrasting colors aids readability for all, especially those with color blindness.
As our society increasingly depends on technology, website accessibility will become more critical to your business. By making your website ADA-compliant, you can ensure that you provide an inclusive experience to all users, regardless of their abilities.
In conclusion, while the legalities surrounding ADA compliance for websites may still be somewhat murky, it’s clear that ensuring your website’s accessibility is a smart and considerate business practice. Making your site ADA-compliant may not be a legal necessity at this moment, but with the increasingly digital nature of our society, it’s likely to become one. And, beyond legal obligations, it’s just good practice. Ensuring everyone can use your website, regardless of any disabilities they may have, opens up your business to a wider audience and demonstrates an inclusive approach. By following the five tips mentioned above, you can make your website more accessible and compliant with ADA guidelines. Because at the end of the day, a more accessible internet benefits us all.