The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 prohibits discrimination based on disability. This means ensuring that everyone has reasonable access to all areas of public life. Although the ADA doesn’t explicitly mention the internet, the federal government has taken the position that Title III of the ADA covers access to websites and mobile apps of public accommodations, including service and rental establishments, retail stores, educational institutions and recreational facilities.
Courts are being inundated with lawsuits filed by individuals with disabilities—typically those with sight or hearing impairments—claiming that businesses’ websites are not accessible to them. The frequency of these claims increased 64% in the first half of 2021 from a year earlier, according to a recent report. Companies with revenue below $50 million were the targets of two-thirds of those lawsuits.
4 Components of ADA Compliance for Websites
For its guidance, the ADA relies on the World Wide Web Consortium’s Web Accessibility Initiative, which lists four major components of ADA compliance for websites:
- Information and user interface components must be presentable to users in ways they can perceive. This ensures that content is available to view in multiple forms, and is easy to see or hear regardless of a disability.
- User interface components and navigation must be operable. This ensures easy website navigation without running into limited functionality or time limits.
- Information and the operation of user interface must be understandable. This ensures all webpages are readable, predictable and have the capability to correct user mistakes.
- Content must be robust enough that it can be interpreted reliably by a wide variety of user agents, including assistive technologies. This ensures the compatibility a website has with technologies someone may use to assist them.
Guidance for ADA Compliance
Currently, ADA website compliance is only mandatory for government-managed websites. However, the Department of Justice has indicated that businesses should be doing their best to make sure their websites are also ADA compliant. The ADA has created suggestions for compliance; however, those suggestions don’t make them law.
Companies can ensure their website is accessible by:
- Conducting a website audit. This process can ensure a website complies with current industry standards and should include a manual, live-person audit to identify potential access barriers.
- Addressing and correcting any accessibility issues. Corrections may include color contrast adjustments, alternative text for images or captions for videos.
- Adopting and maintaining a policy to ensure the website remains accessible. Periodic audits, testing by persons with disabilities and accessibility training for webpage and content developers can help a website remain accessible to all users.
- Adding an accessibility statement. The statement should provide a reliable method, such as a telephone number or email address, for users to contact the company should any accessibility issues arise.
For additional guidance, there are several websites that offer pass or fail type questionnaires employers can use to test whether their website meets the ADA’s suggestions for compliance.
What to Do if Someone Threatens Your Business with an ADA Lawsuit
The absence of laws enforcing ADA compliance for websites of public accommodations hasn’t prevented people from filing lawsuits against companies that don’t meet the suggested guidelines. Businesses in health care, government and education are the most common targets. Attorneys looking for easy money typically target small businesses’ websites by offering a low settlement fee.
If your business is targeted by an ADA website compliance grievance, consider taking the following steps in response:
- Review the grievance for credibility. A lawsuit may likely begin by citing “violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act, Title 42 U.S.C. 12101 and 12181.” It may also include an inexpensive settlement option—a prime indicator that the lawsuit has no legs to stand on and is likely a scam.
- Consult a lawyer. Doing so will help determine the credibility of the threat and stop future threats to your business.
- Respond to the plaintiff. Ask your attorney to draft something explaining that you’ve reviewed their grievance and consulted a lawyer. Realizing that you’ve sought legal help may scare away anyone trying to file a lawsuit.
- Update your website. Do this regardless of whether there is a legal need. If your site is easily accessible by people with disabilities, you may see beneficial returns from those users.
Why Businesses Should Consider Website Accessibility
Even without the legal obligation to do so, building accessible features into websites is a good business practice. Accessibility makes websites easier to use for everyone, not just users with disabilities, and may attract more customers to your website. Implementing accessibility features isn’t a difficult task for web designers and is not likely to alter the appearance and layout of your website.
Digital inclusion is not only important for corporate liability, but is also vital for participation, diversity and civil rights. For more information, contact us via the form below. And be sure to like us on Facebook and follow us on LinkedIn for more industry news and tips.
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