Thanks for writing. While I’m not a lawyer I believe if your physical practice is ADA exempt your web presence, as an extension of that physical business would maintain the same exemption status. If you’d like to be absolutely certain I’d confer with an ADA lawyer (email us, questions at yokoco dot com if you need a referral) but I don’t believe you have reason to worry.
If you use outside resources for your web needs, or have a dedicated web person or company, call them immediately. If you have a department or staff, even better. But— if you are working on your own, you would do yourself and your business a favor to contact a reputable web developer to discuss how to make your site accessible and avoid possible lawsuits. The older your website, the more likely it is that it is NOT compliant. Take action now!
This is the reason why I think web design firms have to position themselves as solution providers and not just web guys/gals. A client doesn't need a website, they need sales. The website is just part of that solution but it's not the solution and unlike web design, service like email marketing automation, SEO, and PPC requires an experienced professional.
During the past 20 years, Criterion has provided our clients with the most rigorous WCAG testing available because we specialize in manual accessibility testing by both experts with disabilities and the industry’s foremost WCAG web developers! As a result, our clients have significantly reduced their exposure to future legal liabilities associated with non-compliant websites or applications.
Last spring, I was approached by my local chapter of the Legal Marketing Association about presenting alongside attorney Dana Hoffman of Young Moore on the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and its application to law firm website design. The presentation was fun and informative, and I was honored shortly thereafter the opportunity to expand the focus for an audience of litigators at the 2017 Defense Research Institute’s Retail and Hospitality Conference in Chicago. I’ll be presenting on this topic this Friday alongside Amy Richardson of Harris Wiltshire & Grannis. Amy has worked on both the litigation and government enforcement sides of this issue and we’re both looking forward to talking with attorneys representing clients across the business spectrum on this interesting topic.
UPDATE: Since writing this post in August 2017, several important changes have taken place in the laws regarding ADA compliance for websites. On December 26, 2017, the Department of Justice announced that they have withdrawn the Obama-era Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking mentioned in this article which intended to require ADA website compliance. The DOJ’s withdrawal announcement stated, “The Department will continue to assess whether specific technical standards are necessary and appropriate to assist covered entities with complying with the ADA.”
In an August 2016 case involving the University of California Berkeley, the DOJ ruled that the public university was in violation of ADA Title II (similar to Title III but it instead applies to government organizations) because their YouTube channel’s videos didn’t include captions for hearing impaired visitors. The DOJ found this to violate the ADA as deaf users did not have equal access to the online content.
You may have installed a ramp, increased the width of your door frames, or made other accommodations to ensure that your physical premises are accessible to all. The requirement for equal access used to only apply to physical locations and storefronts, but now the government is actively ensuring that the requirements for ADA accessibility include online properties such as websites and mobile apps.
When accessible features are built into web pages, websites are more convenient and more available to everyone – including users with disabilities. Web designers can follow techniques developed by private and government organizations to make even complex web pages usable by everyone including people with disabilities. For most websites, implementing accessibility features is not difficult and will seldom change the layout or appearance of web pages. These techniques also make web pages more usable both by people using older computers and by people using the latest technologies (such as personal digital assistants, handheld computers, or web-enabled cellular phones).
Level AA is a little more significant, and makes sites accessible to people with a wider range of disabilities, including the most common barriers to use. It won't impact the look and feel of the site as much as Level AAA compliance, though it does include guidance on color contrast and error identification. Most businesses should be aiming for Level AA conformity, and it appears to reflect the level of accessibility the DOJ expects.
In 2010 the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) released the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design. This update to the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 has consistently been interpreted by U.S. courts to apply to digital content including websites, applications, mobile apps, and PDFs. The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) are technical guidelines referenced when testing for ADA website accessibility. Today, WCAG 2.1 A & AA is considered the minimum standard for ADA website compliance.
DOJ’s September 25 response did not do what the members asked, but it did provide some helpful guidance and invited Congress to take legislative action to address the exploding website accessibility litigation landscape. DOJ first said it was “evaluating whether promulgating specific web accessibility standards through regulations is necessary and appropriate to ensure compliance with the ADA.” (This is helpful – to at least know this issue has not fallen totally off DOJ’s radar.) It continued:
Poorly designed websites can create unnecessary barriers for people with disabilities, just as poorly designed buildings prevent some people with disabilities from entering. Access problems often occur because website designers mistakenly assume that everyone sees and accesses a webpage in the same way. This mistaken assumption can frustrate assistive technologies and their users. Accessible website design recognizes these differences and does not require people to see, hear, or use a standard mouse in order to access the information and services provided.
Upon first recognizing this possible application of Title III of the ADA in 2003, the DOJ laid out a Voluntary Action Plan for government agencies and private entities, and later followed that up with a short list of recommendations in 2007. In 2010, the DOJ seemed to be picking up steam on this topic when they released a Notice of Advance Rulemaking -- stating that they were “considering revising the regulations implementing Title III of the ADA in order to establish requirements for making the goods, services...offered by public accommodations via the Internet, specifically at sites on the World Wide Web, accessible to individuals with disabilities.”
The Supreme Court decided under Title II of the ADA that mental illness is a form of disability and therefore covered under the ADA, and that unjustified institutional isolation of a person with a disability is a form of discrimination because it "...perpetuates unwarranted assumptions that persons so isolated are incapable or unworthy of participating in community life." The court added, "Confinement in an institution severely diminishes the everyday life activities of individuals, including family relations, social contacts, work options, economic independence, educational advancement, and cultural enrichment."
The landscape of disabled access litigation related to online services has significantly changed and expanded over the past decade. Initially, the internet was an area of little concern as courts uniformly held that the ADA applied to "brick and mortar" facilities, not to cyberspace. This has changed and online accessibility is presently, and will continue to be, an area of significant investigation and litigation.
The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) established the main international standards and accessibility for the World Wide Web. The WCAG is created by the W3C to provide a standard for web content accessibility that can be shared around the world. The WCAG is meant to accompany organizations as a sort of blueprint on how to make their websites ADA compliant.
I recently finished a training in ADA compliance for websites. It was illuminating and daunting, as I realizated that there’s a lot of work to be done. It also reiterated—in no uncertain terms—a gospel I’ve been preaching for several years now. Sites need to be accessible for everyone on every platform. Previously I was just focusing on responsive sites (sites that reformat for the device used, such as a phone or tablet.) Since responsive sites are de rigueur these days, I’d like to focus on your site’s accessibility…can it be accessed by people with disabilities? This includes screen readers and other technology. It’s not just a nice thing, it’s a civil law.
Shortly before the act was passed, disability rights activists with physical disabilities coalesced in front of the Capitol Building, shed their crutches, wheelchairs, powerchairs and other assistive devices, and immediately proceeded to crawl and pull their bodies up all 100 of the Capitol's front steps, without warning. As the activists did so, many of them chanted "ADA now", and "Vote, Now". Some activists who remained at the bottom of the steps held signs and yelled words of encouragement at the "Capitol Crawlers". Jennifer Keelan, a second grader with cerebral palsy, was videotaped as she pulled herself up the steps, using mostly her hands and arms, saying "I'll take all night if I have to." This direct action is reported to have "inconvenienced" several senators and to have pushed them to approve the act. While there are those who do not attribute much overall importance to this action, the "Capitol Crawl" of 1990 is seen by some present-day disability activists in the United States as a central act for encouraging the ADA into law.
WEB DESIGN: For over twenty years, I have developed client sites for large and small businesses and in every sector imaginable. I develop responsive websites with WordPress which is the industry standard for website development. I specialize in Responsive Web Design so your website displays automatically on any device. Responsive design makes the most sense when developing your new business website because the design adjusts itself to the size of a user's screen. Your website visitors will be able to view all of your content on a desktop computer,...