Legal Guide

Why ADA Compliance Matters to Your Website

On July 26, 1990, President George H.W. Bush signed into law the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This act protects the civil rights of disabled persons in homes, parks, businesses, and educational facilities. Specifically, Title III prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in the activities of places of public accommodation.

Back in 1990, the internet was just a blip on the radar, while now, people use it for basically everything in their lives. The internet now, effectively, is a place of public accommodation.

Unfortunately, only federal, state, and local government websites must meet Section 508 of the Act’s regulations. That leaves all of the other websites unaccountable to meet the ADA’s legal standards for universal website accessibility.

While this might be true at this point, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) is working on this issue. Even if your website is not currently affected, it doesn’t preclude your business from being presented with a lawsuit.

What is the W3C?

While you might not be accountable for accessibility right now, the W3C aims to provide a single shared standard for web content accessibility. The W3C will enact a set of standards that both unify development and allow web-based solutions with universally accepted protocols.

In fact, they have created the Website Accessibility Initiative to develop web content and accessibility guidelines (WCAG). These guidelines address those with auditory, cognitive, neurological, physical, speech, and visual disabilities.

Is Your Website ADA Compliant?

The ADA compliance guidelines are established.

The problem is that the majority of websites are not coded to work properly with the assistive technology those with disabilities use. Some examples of these technologies include:

  • Screen Readers: Screen readers read aloud what's on your website
  • Keyboard Only Navigation: Allow low-vision or blind individuals to navigate your website with a keyboard instead of a mouse or trackpad
  • Color Contrast: Changing the color contrast makes it easier for people with limited vision to read and see your website's content

These technologies allow users to navigate and/or use websites like others who are not disabled.

No True Written Law

As stated above, just because the ADA does not have laws in place at the moment to address accessibility and the internet, it does not mean to say they won’t in the near future. In fact, there have been numerous cases that have dealt with this issue. For example, the landmark case of Gil Vs. Winn Dixie ruled that the defendant violated the ADA because their website was not accessible to a blind plaintiff. Winn Dixie has both a physical and online presence.

Do not let that coax you into thinking you’re fine because your business is online only. In fact, there have been many cases that have been decided for the plaintiff in which there was only an online presence. Further, the Department of Justice made a statement in favor of the ADA regarding compliance with technology.

Some other important cases that you can review include the following:

These are just a few of the numerous cases filed to require website accessibility for those with disabilities. You may not want to roll the dice on compliance, as your website might be next, and the penalties are harsh.

Results of Non-Compliance

As stated above, the punitive damages you may incur for non-compliance can be hefty. There are fines for violating Section 504 and Section 508 of the ADA. These fines can start at up to $55,000 for your first offense and up to $110,000 for each subsequent offense. Fines might be where you get off lightly.

You may receive a demand letter for a settlement, or you could even be sued under the ADA’s Title III. If that’s the case, get out your checkbook because you will be paying for court fees, attorney fees, and settlements. In addition, it is then a requirement that you make your website ADA accessible as well.

How Do I Get My Website Compliant?

So, where do you go from here? Well, the first thing to do is hire a web accessibility consultant who is familiar with ADA accessibility. Another solutions is using a software like accessiBe to become accessible if the website is already live. If the website is being developed, research the WCGA 2.1 standards and build it with accessibility guidelines in the first place to ensure that you meet their standards.

You will then need to format the code on the website, including images, videos, multimedia, documents, and PDFs, into compliance. You have two avenues in which to achieve this. If you have a development team, this should be in their wheelhouse. Or, you might decide to automate the process with an accessibility integration for your website.

You will then want to create a VPAT report. This report is a document that explains how information and communication technology (ICT) products meet or conform to the revised 508 standards for IT accessibility. This report is essentially your hard proof that you have met all standards.

When the ADA was signed into an act, one could not necessarily foresee that a little known thing called the internet would explode in the next decade or so. In fact, most of us still had to look up information on microfiche or in encyclopedias at the library at that time. While all-encompassing then, the ADA did not cover what was in the near future.

Final Thoughts

It is only right that websites also equally serve those with disabilities in the internet age, as it is truly a place of public accommodation. While you may not have considered this at the advent of launching your website, it is now necessary to become ADA compliant.

No one wants fines or lawsuits because they aren’t meeting these standards. Don’t let your website succumb to either one. It is easy to remedy this situation, and including everyone will only create more traffic on your website in the long run.

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