The Americans with Disabilities Act is about 30 years old now, since it was originally enacted in 1990. The purpose of this law has been to prohibit discrimination against people with disabilities in all walks of life, including employment, transportation, public accommodation, communication, and governmental activities. Sometimes, it can be easy to take these things for granted, especially when you realize that the ADA hasn’t necessarily caught up with the current online world that we live in.
The ADA is very important in providing accessibility to everyone who needs it, so that even when it comes to small matters, people with disabilities feel supported. This includes being supported online, which may confuse you as a website owner, but it’s important to still be compliant.
Important Points At A Glance
- The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) includes Title III is about Public Accommodations, which is now being interpreted to include websites
- With about 19 percent of the American population with a disability, it’s important for people who are deaf, who need accommodations for access to education, or have another disability, are capable of easily interacting with content
- The ADA is what is known as a strict liability law, meaning that there are no excuses and defenses for violations—a web developer working on it, or not knowing about the regulations is not an excuse
- The ADA is created to break down barriers that prevent equal access—even online, but there are no current legal protections for websites beyond the WCAG 2.0 AA, which is what is usually referenced by courts
- The ADA has been around for 25 years, but with the new web technology today, it’s somewhat unclear how to fix your website to abide by it
Beware of Scams
- Know how the ADA applies to websites. In one case, a company lied about the existence of contracts and regulations
- It’s important to know the ADA and regulations to keep your company safe as well. There are cases of men and women alleging problems with a company’s compliance, and asking for settlements from companies that are unaware of the regulations
- If you’re looking to fix up your website, don’t fall for any automated scams or instant solutions; compliance is something you need to really pay attention to if you want to avoid possible scams from people looking to take advantage
- Be careful of purchasing anything that will work in an automated form, and check on digital marketing agencies that claim ADA compliance. It’s important to understand the actual tenets of accessibility to be sure that your website follows the regulations
- Having your website up to date and understanding the law will allow you to overcome possible scams
Essential Legal Points to Take Note
- Lawyers will not hesitate to file ADA lawsuits in 2020, especially when so much of the world is online and it’s necessary for people with disabilities to access content online that they really can’t find anywhere else
- Websites fall under the Title III of the ADA, which also applies to buildings and barriers. People with disabilities are also affected by the New York City Commission on Human Rights, requiring landlords to accommodate the needs of tenants
- The Fair Housing Act are being used to sue website owners as well; even though there are no specific regulations for websites, other laws are being used for compliance and regulations
- Even if you are a small company with less than 15 employees, you must still follow through with ADA compliance
- Laws are about reasonable accommodation, which does take into account the financial resources of the landlord or building, or websites. The laws themselves are broad, however, and should be reviewed carefully
What is ADA Compliance?
The ADA is made to prevent discrimination against individuals from all walks of life, including places that are open to the general public, jobs, schools, and transportation. The main purpose of the law is to make sure that those with disabilities have the same rights and opportunities as everyone else. Due to the existence of this law, people with disabilities have been able to lead more independent lives, but what does it really mean to be ADA compliant?
Tenets of the ADA
ADA compliance means having the proper infrastructures to allow people to access buildings, schools, and even content on websites. It also requires no discrimination against people searching for employment. There are five sections to the ADA after all, focusing on employment, facilities and services, public accommodations, telecommunicators, and more miscellaneous pieces too.
ADA and Technology
In terms of technology, the ADA requires the same type of compliance online as it does for public spaces. Just like your public spaces need to be made easily accessible for everyone, so too does your website need to have the infrastructure to be sure that individuals with disabilities can view or listen to your content. Not just your website either: your mobile app, software, and any other digital content are included under the ADA.
How to Be Compliant
To make your website compliant, it’s all about making your website accessible for people with disabilities. The question you need to ask yourself is: how well can a person with a disability access your content? Then, you need to consider how you can make your website properly accessible.
Think about how you can follow through with “effective communication” on your website. How do people get to the main page on your website? What links do they have to click? What do they have to read or listen to on your website?
If they can’t listen to something, do you have transcripts available so that they can still access your content? These are the questions you need to ask yourself in order to be compliant.
Is Every Website Legally Required to Follow the WCAG?
The short answer is no. Truthfully, the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) is exactly as the name indicates, guidelines, for most. While federal agencies and their contractors must abide by WCAG, most private businesses aren’t legally required to follow WCAG, though your website should still be accessible.
To avoid potential lawsuits or future complications from not meeting the ADA, it is a good idea to at least try to conform with WCAG 2.0 AA and meet most, if not all, of the guidelines.
While it is necessary for your website to be accessible, there is not an exact guideline to what this means. We find the simplest way to ensure your website meets the accessibility requirement is to analyze what your website’s intention is and how it is intended to be navigated.
Websites exist to provide a variety of information, and you should be questioning how many steps one would have to click through to reach that information. Ensure that your website’s common paths are easily navigable and clear of any obvious barriers.
You should try your best to make your website easy to navigate and meet some of the WCAG guidelines to ensure accessibility as this will help you avoid trouble and allow more people to spend time on your site. That being said, there is a decent amount of flexibility when it comes to private businesses and web accessibility.
It seems to be widely accepted that until the ADA gets stricter with private businesses following the WCAG, if you are making an effort, you should be in the clear, since it is not easy for a private business to implement WCAG fully.
To show that your website is making an effort, here is a list of criteria re-written from the WCAG that you could implement on your website to ensure greater accessibility.
WCAG 2.0 AA
1.1.1 Alt Text: Any non-text content such as an image should have (and in some cases needs) alt text. Alt text is text below or beside a non-text section of your website, such as an image for example, that describes the image for those who would not be able to see it. This is important for those who use screen reading programs, which are only capable of reading text, so an image or non-text section of your website would be inaccessible and therefore skipped over.
1.2.1 Video and Audio Alternatives: Similar to alt text for photos or non-text portions of your website, video and audio content should have transcription. This transcription should be in the same section as the video or audio file in either a labeled or linked format.
1.2.2 Closed Captioning: Videos containing sounds and speech, should have closed captioning that is accurate both in wording and with the timing of the video.
1.2.3 Audio Description: An audio description is a separate video or text that presents that information not present in the audio of a video. This may be visual descriptions or readings of slides with written information, any information that is not found in the video’s soundtrack.
1.2.4: Lived Captioning: Similar to closed captioning (accurate captioning both in wording and timing) for any and all live videos.
1.2.5: Audio Description: Though an audio description is not completely necessary in section
1.2.3 level A it is not optional in section 1.2.5 AA.
1.3.1 Website Structure: Your website’s content should be properly structured using the correct markup techniques.
1.3.2 Meaningful Order: For those using a screen reader, a website that is displayed in a weird order may be unavailable. Ensure your website’s content is presented in a sequence that makes sense for those who can not scroll through to their desired sections.
1.3.3 Sensory Characteristics: When listing important or detailed instructions, try and include ways to attain the information that is not dependent on only one sensory ability (as in not only visual or auditory instruction.)
1.4.1 Color: Color will not be described to those who cannot see your website, so it is important not to use color to convey information if you will not be describing the specific use of coloring in text format.
1.4.2 Audio Control: To ensure those who use screen readers can actually hear their screen reader speak, any audio on your page should be pausable, mutable or stoppable. This also goes for videos with audio, as pausing is necessary so that everyone can keep up with the information given.
1.4.3 Color Contrast: All of your text on your website should be contrasted to the background for those who are not able to easily distinguish between colors. Try and keep your text and background at a contrast ratio of 4:5:1 to make it more legible for all.
1.4.4 Text Resize: Along with color contrast for legible text comes text resizing. Your text needs to be able to reach a resize of 2005 without shifting around other information or buttons and functions.
1.4.5 Images of Text: Since screen readers are not able to pick up on images, it is best to avoid using images of text in place of text itself, unless for a necessary purpose (like your logo.)
2.1.1 Keyboard only: All of your functions and content should be accessible by keyboard (without the need for a mouse)
2.1.2 No Keyboard Traps: Your website should be easily navigable in all directions, whether scrolling up and down, moving back and forth between pages. Those who are using a keyboard should not get trapped on a page (a mouse should never be necessary to get off a page.)
2.2.1 Adjustable Time: Any time limits should be adjustable, extendable or removable.
2.2.2 Pause, Stop, hide: Any content that moves on its own (such as self-blinking or scrolling content) should be able to be paused, hidden or stopped.
2.3.1 Three Flashes or Less: Any content that flashes should be limited to three times or less per a second period.
2.4.1: Your website should have a “skip to content” link, which brings people right to your main content.
2.4.2 Page Title: Every page should have a helpful and descriptive page title so users can easily understand what the page contains.
2.4.3 Focus Order: Your website should be navigable in a sequential order that will make sense to all (for those reading from beginning to end, as well as those skipping through with bypass links.)
2.4.4 Link Anchor Text: Links should clearly explain the content that the link will bring them to (so do not make a link that says “click here”.)
2.4.5 Multiple Ways: Your website should have multiple ways to be navigated such as a search bar, sidebar, helpful links etc.
2.4.6: Descriptive Headings and Labels: Headings and labels should be short but clear and understandable.
2.4.7 Focus Indicator: All user interface control which would be focused from a user on a keyboard should have clear indication of the focus.
3.1.1 Website Language: Have your website’s language preset.
3.1.2 Language Changes: Any language changes should be indicated within the page’s content.
3.2.1 Focus Change: Your page should only change when change is intended. In other words a user should hit enter or another obvious sign that they want the change to take place before it does so.
3.2.2 Input Change: Your website should not auto submit or change information put into a field.
3.2.3 Consistent Navigation: Your website’s navigation should remain consistent on all pages.
3.3.4 Consistent Identification: Any components that have different functions within the site should be clearly marked. For example, if someone is checking a box on one page for an approval and a disapproval (or another completely different meaning or intention) on another page, it should be noted.
3.3.1 Error Identification: Form Errors should be easily identifiable and correctable.
3.3.2 Form Labels and Instructions: Label input fields programmatically so users know what format is necessary.
3.3.3 Error Suggestions: When errors are detected, suggestions for corrections should be offered but not automatically filled in.
3.3.4 Error Prevention on Important Forms: Legal, financial or other important data should be correctable in case of error (this may be done through a final page that allows the user the chance to review final information presubmitting)
4.1.1 Parsing: HTML codes should be easy to read, properly nested and free of errors such as missing brackets or other abnormalities.
4.1.2 Name, Role, Value: Forms, links other user interface components including name, role, and value should be compatible with assistive technology
Things to Take Note of
Small Budget Restrictions
If you’re a small business and don’t have a big budget, then hiring a company or contractor to do these tasks may be difficult to justify. But just because your business is small, doesn’t mean you can’t get it done the right way without spending a big chunk of money.
There are ways you can check your website accessibility yourself, without spending big bucks (like on practically worthless automated “instant” fixes) or contractors who might not do the best job.
If you have the time to research ADA laws, and the requirements you need to adhere to, then we recommend doing it yourself, but make sure to have your work checked by an expert to ensure you did everything you needed to.
Within the ADA compliance, there’s a different list of legal customs that are best to follow so as to keep yourself covered. Having a web accessibility policy page and statements, training, hiring a professional independent consultant, and having a set coordinator to oversee accessibility of the website, as well as making sure to get feedback on your website’s functionality and accessibility periodically will save you in the long run.
These are simple and beneficial ways to help keep your bases covered so money-hungry lawyers don’t come looking at you like a pack of hungry wolves does at a caribou carcass.
Avoid Paid Automated Scans
One of the best things you can do is to check the website yourself. There are extension accessibility apps like WAVE and AXE that are free and easy to use, but they will only give you a general idea and direction on where to start or where your site needs work.
There are good extension apps that do dive a bit deeper into the technical areas like Tenon.io, which is free and has budget friendly subscriptions for more assistance if you’re a smaller establishment or a larger one.
While these extensions are great, they will not cover you 100% and are more of general guidelines. To make sure your accessibility is where it needs to be, it is best to hire an expert to go over your site fully.
If going the “done for you” route, make sure you’re getting a comprehensive manual audit and not just an automated scan.
Stay away from “Instant” Scams
Do not fall for the “instant solution automation” gimmicks- they are just a waste of money and time. They’re just simply quick-enabled toolbars, widgets or plugins on the site that actually don’t do much of anything. They won’t make your website more accessible.
Just having one on your website will not protect you, it will actually make you more of a target for those blood-hound lawyers with potential lawsuits. We recommend avoiding these tools, since they don’t actually accomplish anything for you. Your best bet will be to look for better alternatives with more reliability.
What Happens if My Website is Not ADA compliant?
Having ADA compliance is more important to may think. It is a requirement you will not afford to be able to overlook. Having a website that is not ADA compliant could land you in bigger trouble than you may be prepared for. There is a possibility that you will face the risk of lawsuits and substantial fines if you are not careful.
Not only will you face damaging fines, your reputation will also sink drastically. It is not really a matter of whether or not your business will be able to afford to pay the fines. It is more of a matter of keeping business and keeping your reputation intact. It is safest to just make sure your website is ADA compliant rather than face the consequences.
Checking ADA Compliance
There are a few ways that you can make sure your website is ADA compliant. This includes conducting a manual audit, getting a professional assessment, and using free online tools. All three options are generally pretty easy to follow and can help you out in the long run.
In order to conduct a manual audit, you will need to check every page on your website yourself for their accessibility. You must make sure that they fit the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). This checklist will ensure that your website is completely operable, robust, understandable, and perceivable. These four principles are the essential keys to having ADA compliance.
Getting a professional assessment will eliminate the need to check your website for ADA compliance on your own. A professional will look over your website to make sure it follows WCAG guidelines. Then, they will help you create a plan that will lead you closer to implementing complete ADA compliance. Hiring a professional will be an excellent advantage if you are not comfortable checking yourself or if you lack the time.
Using free online tools can prove to be advantageous when it comes to checking ADA compliance. Tools such as WAVE will look at different aspects of your website one page at a time for the purpose of evaluation. There are many other ADA compliance checking tools that you can use, so you should be able to find one that will fit your needs.
What to do if you Get into a ADA Lawsuit
Let’s say that despite your hard efforts, an ADA tester comes around and starts a lawsuit against you. Their main goal is to create an “agreement” to resolve your ADA compliance issues.
Typically, they went to physical locations such as store fronts and restaurants, so how does this work on a website?
The fastest way to stop a lawsuit from going further is to immediately fix the problem once it’s been brought to your attention. In fact, one of the most frequent topics in lawsuits is rather simple to remedy. That is the alt text.
The truth is, many lawyers seem to like targeting alt text because it’s extremely obvious and easy to find, amongst all the other compliance factors. Often, these lawyers will start with alt text. Then, they’ll go ahead and add on various other factors they can spot to strengthen their case and ultimately, try to gain a larger settlement.
Ultimately, making your website ADA compliant is not a sprint. It’s more a journey than a simple flick of a button.
In 2018, there was a big number of lawsuits being filed and the trend has been going upward ever since.
This isn’t an issue to ignore any longer. Keep working on your website to make it compliant and accessible. In the unfortunate event that you’re facing a lawsuit, seek to solve the issues of your website right away. In this way, you might succeed in dismissing the lawsuit since you’ve already solved the issue and made the issue non-existent.
|Provide various ways for your website visitors to search for and navigate content||One of the most important items on the WCAG checklist is to make sure that your content is easily accessible to everyone. You must avoid adding content that will cause visitors to have seizures if they are susceptible to having them. Your website should also have the ability to let users visit the website and upload their content with easily operable keyboard functions.|
|Provide ways for your website visitors to avoid or remedy any mistakes||Your website should function in a way that will help visitors avoid making mistakes and take steps that will fix them. Like many websites, your website should give them the ability to undo errors and confirm certain actions. You should also implement text suggestions that will alert them to any errors they make so they can correct them.|
|Help your website visitors avoid content that could potentially bring on a seizure||Your website visitors could be susceptible to seizures. It is important to make sure that you avoid content that could cause seizures to happen without warning. You should avoid adding content that flashes more than three times per second. Make sure there are no surprise pop-ups on any page and add user controls that will help visitors with seizure inducing conditions.|
|Provide time limiting controls to your users||You should be able to give your users the ability to use time limit controls to disable time limits. These functions may not work on real-time events, but they will allow your users to feel more in control of update frequencies. They should also be able to pause any moving content with this feature.|
|Always provide text alternatives for content that doesn’t consist of text||Text alternatives should be available for content that does not have text content. This will be useful for visitors who rely on text rather than images to receive their information. They should be able to give names to different controls and implement features that will help them avoid non-text features.|
|Ensure your website supports present and future user agents as well as assistive technology||Make sure that your website is capable of supporting user agents, both in current use and ones meant for the future. Implement proper markup languages, HTML, and assistive technologies to keep your website functional.|
|Always provide other options for multimedia||Every multimedia element on your website should have an alternative. This should work especially for users who are hard of hearing or visually impaired. Video content should have transcripts or closed captions available. They should also come with links that will allow users to access those transcripts.|
|Make the difference between background and foreground information clear||The relevant information on your website must stay separated from the less relevant information. Additionally, you should remove any type of background noise from any type of video content you have. You should also allow users to customize the website based on how they need it to access it properly.|
|Let your website work using a keyboard interface||You must allow the website to work on the keyboard interface. This will basically disable features that incorporate timed keystrokes. It may also remove the need for other devices.|
|Ensure that website functions and the way content is positioned is predictable||The content of the website should be predictable and free of anything that could cause confusion. Everything should be relevant and include proper explanations. Include diagrams or images to make content clearer and easier to understand.|
|Make sure your website content is easy to read and understand||Every piece of content on every page must be easy to understand. If the content is not easy to read or comprehend, your website will not be entirely accessible to your users.|
|Make clear the distinction between structure and information||The informational content should be separated into subheadings. You must use proper HTML and labels that are easy to comprehend. Everything should be presented with relevance and proper organization.|