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 On December 26, 2017, the Department of Justice announced that they have withdrawn the Obama-era Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking mentioned in this article which intended to require ADA website compliance.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.”
The Department of Justice’s revised regulations for Titles II and III of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) were published in the Federal Register on September 15, 2010. These regulations adopted revised, enforceable accessibility standards called the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design, "2010 Standards." On March 15, 2012, compliance with the 2010 Standards was required for new construction and alterations under Titles II and III. March 15, 2012, is also the compliance date for using the 2010 Standards for program accessibility and barrier removal.
“The idea of equal access, equal opportunity has sort of evolved in its application from brick and mortar to eCommerce. At first, many companies were worried about the desktop experience. Now, the concern extends to both smart phones and devices. Wherever a consumer accesses your content – whether it be directly through the web or an app – you need to be concerned about accessibility.”
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.
That’s good news if you are one of the many Americans who have a visual, hearing, or mobility disability that makes it difficult to access some information on the web. If you are a business owner who hasn’t made provisions to ensure that your website and other online assets are ADA compliant, you could be looking at a host of legal and financial penalties.
This is particularly important when working for a government agency or government contractor, as these organizations must follow web accessibility guidelines under Section 508 of the Workforce Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Although ADA and Section 508 compliance are different, the published checklist for Section 508 compliance offers insight into ways to make websites accessible for people with disabilities, and thereby work toward ADA compliance.
The 2014 case involving Peapod, an online grocery retailer emphasizes that being ADA compliant goes beyond your website. The settlement required Peapod to make its mobile applications accessible by March 2015 and its website accessible by September 2015. Since mobile apps are fast becoming the preferred method of online shopping, e-commerce sites must focus on app accessibility too.
Olmstead v. L.C. was a case before the United States Supreme Court in 1999. The two plaintiffs L.C. and E.W. were institutionalized in Georgia for diagnosed mental retardation and schizophrenia. Clinical assessments by the state determined that the plaintiffs could be appropriately treated in a community setting rather than the state institution. The plaintiffs sued the state of Georgia and the institution for being inappropriately treated and housed in the institutional setting rather than being treated in one of the state's community based treatment facilities.
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.
ADA compliance isn’t a set-it-and-forget-it thing. Compliance standards must be followed and will evolve just as your website does. There are guidelines all website contributors must know to stay within ADA guidelines. It is generally not burdensome but it does require some web managers to change their workflows. For example, loading images up to your ecommerce site will always need some of that alternative text (alt tags) mentioned above.
For most businesses, the need for ADA web compliance means they will need to make at least some adjustments to all of their online marketing strategies. For instance, if your company provides tax preparation services, all of the tax forms you provide for customers to download would need to meet accessibility standards. Any online tax preparation services that you offer would also need to be configured so they meet ADA standards, as would your mobile app.
Case law has been the most helpful in illuminating the implications of the ADA for websites.There have been lawsuits involving companies like Expedia, Hotels.com, Southwest Airlines, and Target as defendants and primarily featuring accessibility organizations as plaintiffs. These cases had mixed results, but each helped clarify the ADA's jurisdiction on the web.
The ADA defines a covered disability as a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a history of having such an impairment, or being regarded as having such an impairment. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) was charged with interpreting the 1990 law with regard to discrimination in employment. The EEOC developed regulations limiting an individual's impairment to one that "severely or significantly restricts" a major life activity. The ADAAA directed the EEOC to amend its regulations and replace "severely or significantly" with "substantially limits", a more lenient standard.
While the U.S. Department of Labor's (DOL) Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) does not enforce the ADA, it does offer publications and other technical assistance on the basic requirements of the law, including covered employers’ obligation to provide reasonable accommodations to qualified job applicants and employees with disabilities. For a quick overview of the ADA read “The Americans with Disabilities Act: A Brief Overview.”
Web designers often design in such a way that does not allow the user to adjust font size or color. While they may be protecting their brand, they are also inhibiting some users. Many visually impaired need to use high contrast color settings or very large fonts to read a website. Don't design your website in a way that makes it impossible for them to do this.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) became law in 1990. The ADA is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life, including jobs, schools, transportation, and all public and private places that are open to the general public. The purpose of the law is to make sure that people with disabilities have the same rights and opportunities as everyone else. The ADA gives civil rights protections to individuals with disabilities similar to those provided to individuals on the basis of race, color, sex, national origin, age, and religion. It guarantees equal opportunity for individuals with disabilities in public accommodations, employment, transportation, state and local government services, and telecommunications. The ADA is divided into five titles (or sections) that relate to different areas of public life.
Web developers need to keep this in mind when creating websites. The best screen readers use naturalized voices and alter tone and inflection based on HTML tags, so choose layout elements carefully. It is also important to keep in mind that navigation is significantly slower when using a screen reader than it is for sighted people. Sighted people don't have to wait for the reader to get to the link we want- we spot links quickly and are able to navigate to our sought items, often without having to do any reading at all. Minimizing graphics also helps shorten reading times and speed navigation for disabled users.
While legal considerations might be your biggest worry, making your site more accessible is simply good customer service. More than 39 million Americans are blind and another 246 million have "low vision," Another one million are deaf in the U.S. Add to that people with mobility issues that prevent them from using their hands and that's a huge portion of the country's buying power.
Title II of the ADA prohibits discrimination against qualified individuals with disabilities in all programs, activities, and services of public entities. It applies to all state and local governments, their departments and agencies, and any other instrumentalities or special purpose districts of state or local governments. It clarifies the requirements of section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended, for public transportation systems that receive federal financial assistance, and extends coverage to all public entities that provide public transportation, whether or not they receive federal financial assistance. It establishes detailed standards for the operation of public transit systems, including commuter and intercity rail (e.g., AMTRAK).