Do you realize that your website could be issued an ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) litigation for non-compliance? You read that right. Not your bricks and mortar space now, but your website. Not many people do. Not until they have a lawsuit to deal with. If you aren’t in an ADA compliance website lawsuit situation yet, then you might be able to avoid it altogether.
Here’s an outline of what this article covers;
- What ADA is Compliance is.
- Is it mandatory for websites?
- What the effects of compliance (and non-compliance) are for your business.
Enjoy the ride!
A Closer Look at the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act).
The ADA was passed into law by President George H.W Bush on January 1st, 2009. The original intention of the act when it was passed into law about three decades ago was to guard against the discrimination of people with Disabilities. It was this Act that popularized the inclusion of parking lots for the disabled and wheelchair ramps alongside staircases in public spaces.
- You are a business that benefits the public,
- You are a private employer with 15 or more employees, or
- You are a local, state, or government agency … then the ADA act applies to you.
At the heart of ADA is providing a similar experience to all people- including (and especially) people with disabilities.
Title III of the Act mandated the removal of physical barriers that hindered the inclusion of peoples with disabilities in all ‘places of public accommodation’. ‘Place of Public Accommodation’ here is defined as businesses opened to the public and those who fall into one of 12 other categories listed in the ADA. Restaurants, Shopping Centers, Schools, Hospitals, recreation facilities all fit the bill.
The million-dollar question for a long time is whether or not a website passes a ‘place of public accommodation’. When the Former US President passed the law in the 90s, the internet, although born, was still in its infancy stage. It hadn’t become intertwined into our daily life has it has become now. As such, the language used in the law did was not clear on whether or not the ADA included website accessibility. There was no need for it to be… or so it seemed.
The Litigation Problems
There are no clear standards guiding website accessibility. But that hasn’t stopped many businesses from being dragged into lawsuits. More than a few of this business have been required to pay thousands of dollars in settlement to Plaintiffs- in violation of Title III of the ADA.
The cases of ADA lawsuits continue to rise. Some reports say there was a 180% in the number of ADA litigation cases from 2017 to 2018. And those numbers aren’t likely to slow down soon.
It seems some have taken advantage of this loophole to enrich themselves. It is believed that for some plaintiffs involved in these ligations, the deal for them is not about expanding access. It is about having a few more bucks in the bank — the thousands of number cases of accessibility-related litigations in the US.
You have to take action to guard your business against the set back that could come with a significant lawsuit. Not only will this cost you lots of money, it will also cost you time, mental and emotional stress. It could even erode your brand reputation. And if not handled cautiously, it could cost you your business.
The lawsuits are based on two premises. First, that a company website does pass a place of public accommodation. Second, the site is discriminatory (as far as accessibility goes), in that it does not provide access to people with disabilities.
For example, does your website have speech reading software incorporated in its code for the visually impaired? If your answer is no, you could soon have an ADA litigation situation.
For some, February 2018 was a time to breathe a sigh of relief, as that was when Congress passed the ADA Education and Reform Act. The reform was spearheaded by republican lawmakers who wrote and passed the bill. And the goal they say is to curb scam lawsuits. The change makes it a little more difficult for a lawsuit to be slapped against a business.
Amongst other things it gave affected entities a 120-day window after they had been challenged with a written notice. Sixty days to acknowledge the complaint and describe their plans to fix the alleged issues. Then 60 more days to fix the problem or at least prove that they were making substantial progress.
What is an ADA Compliant Website?
The US Department of Justice made it quite clear that websites need to be accessible to persons with disabilities. The challenge, however, is that there are still no legal standards guiding what is and what isn’t an ADA compliant website.
One of the famous cases of ADA lawsuits involved the University of California Berkeley 2016. The DOJ ruled against UC Berkeley, stating that it had violated the ADA act. Their video content did not include captions for hearing-impaired visitors. Since hearing-impaired visitors did not have access to the video content, it was considered discriminatory against persons with disabilities.
In this case, as well as a few others, the DOJ referred to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) as a decent benchmark for guiding accessibility. As it stands WCAG it seems to be the most reliable guideline for website accessibility checks. WCAG will likely continue to serve as the gold standard for ADA compliance until the US Congress gives more clarity on the subject.
Understanding the WCAG: Is your website ADA Compliant?
The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) is an initiative of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). They are the closest guidelines we have to a legal set of standards in measuring website accessibility.
It’s essential to keep in mind though that WCAG is not law. Just because your website conforms to the WCAG doesn’t automatically mean that you are ADA compliant.
Nonetheless, the WCAG series of guidelines provide a useful framework in working towards website accessibility for all. Even courts have come to rely on it. The WCAG 2.0 outlines four principles for website accessible design. Stating that websites must be;
- Perceivable Operable
Amidst all of this complexity, here’s what needs to be clear, your website needs to be accessible to persons with disabilities. People with disabilities should be factored in the design and content creation for your website. These disabilities include (but aren’t limited to) low vision and blindness, hearing loss and deafness, cognitive limitations, limitations to movement and photosensitivity.
Where do we go from here?
The lack of explicit clarity around the legal definition of an ADA Compliant website still exists. Regardless, your business or agency should strive to make your website accessible in every sense of the word. Not only does this protect you from the possibilities of a lawsuit, but it also turns out it is good business practice.
How so? For one thing, you open up your business to a more extensive potential customer base- over 40million more Americans. Second, the practices involved in making websites accessible are similar to SEO practices. In other words, your (accessible) site would rank higher in search engine results.
But that’s not all. One more reason why you should consider general accessibility in your website design is that it’s the right thing to do. At the end of the day, ‘we are here for all of us’ like the pop music artist Alicia Keys said.
For website owners, the biggest challenge involved in working towards compliance is the cost to make a website ADA compliant. And, make no mistake about it, you may have quite a bill have to foot. It could cost from a few hundred to tens of thousands of dollars depending on the complexity of the website. Will they see a return on your investment?
The chances are high that you will. In all probability, your act of kindness would be rewarded with increased brand reputation, brand loyalty, and client referrals. Consider the alternative though. If you don’t make your website compliant and filed a lawsuit, you will spend more money than you hoped to save.
If you haven’t already, you should have your website checked for accessibility and make plans to ensure that it does become “accessible”.
Time for Recap
An ADA compliant website is one that passes a set of web accessibility standards. It considers the inclusion of people with disabilities in its content creation. The benefits of being compliant are worth the effort that goes into making it so.
For the business, your offers are open to a broader customer base, your web site ranks better with search engines, and you avoid the risk of litigation. To the public, you have contributed towards the building of an egalitarian society.
Is ADA Compliance Mandatory for business? Yes, it is! Your website could be at the risk of litigation if it is not ADA Compliant.
If you need to check your website for ADA compliance and plan appropriately towards making it complaint get in touch with us. Our team at Search Engine Projects would be happy to walk you through the process.