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Is Your Website ADA Compliant?

November 6, 2017

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (“ADA”) is a landmark civil rights law that, among other things, prohibits discrimination based on certain disabilities. Since its enactment, places of public accommodation have been required to be physically accessible to people with disabilities. Although there is no specific language regarding websites (yet), the US Department of Justice (“DOJ”) has indicated, and the state and federal courts are now making it clear, that under the ADA, “public accommodation” applies to websites as well.

This means that in the same way that businesses make physical accommodations such as wheelchair ramps, braille next to signs, and automatic doors, accommodations must also be applied in the virtual world. Websites must be accessible on desktops, laptops, tablets, and mobile phones.

Many people with disabilities use assistive technology that enables them to use computers. Some assistive technology uses separate programs or devices such as text enlargement software, audio scanners, screen readers, etc. These tools need special instructions to help translate or convey information on the web page to users. Access problems occur when websites mistakenly assume that everyone sees and accesses a site in the same way.

Is your website accessible?

Whereas the DOJ previously indicated that it would provide some guidance to the law’s application to websites in 2018, this initiative has recently been placed in the “inactive category”, meaning it could be some time, years in fact, before there is black-letter law to follow.  In the meantime, the “substantially compliant” standard that is emerging is embodied by the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) A and AA accessibility standards (the “Guidelines”). Below are just a few of the requirements contained within the Guidelines:

  • Media players contain a link to the site where the software can be downloaded.
  • Images should contain alternative text readable by screen reader software
  • Video content or audio content has an accompanying text transcript or description.
  • Appearance of site does not rely solely on color.
  • Buttons and/or links are clearly named.
  • Each page has language code in the header to identify which language the code is written and should be read in.
  • The site is free of strobe effects or rapidly flashing colors or animations.
  • Keyboard focus should not get locked onto any specific page element.
  • Images do not replace any function that can be achieved using text.
  • Menus and buttons should have consistent order and presentation throughout the site.
  • Usage of redundant links on the same page is either minimized or eliminated.
  • Suggestions are provided whenever the user encounters input errors.

Again, until the DOJ issues a clarification, what it means for your website to be ADA compliant will be determined by the Courts and already inconsistent standards are emerging depending on whether your business is located in New York, Texas, Florida, or elsewhere.  Opportunistic plaintiff’s lawyers have started issuing “threat to sue” letters and are looking to certify class action lawsuits.[1]

While there is no guarantee that strict compliance with the Guidelines will be sufficient to ward off a lawsuit, the effort you put in now in making sure your website is compatible with assistive technology, and staying on top of advances in these technologies, will minimize the risk of costly litigation, not to mention a PR headache.  The first step is to complete an audit of your site, something we will be glad to help with!

If you would like to know if your website is ADA compliant, email us for an audit at ada@vwm.com

[1] Whereas disabled plaintiff’s  brought 240 website accessibility suites in 2015 and 2016 combined, there has already been over 700 commenced in 2017. Source, Reuters  https://www.reuters.com/article/legal-us-otc-ada/will-trump-doj-side-with-disabled-plaintiffs-in-ada-website-suits-idUSKBN1CO2WJ