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.”
In the context of employment, the ADA prohibits employers from taking disability into consideration in all aspects of the employment relationship—from hiring to firing and virtually everything in between. The law also requires employers to make reasonable accommodations for individuals with disabilities to help them do their job. Outside of employment, the ADA requires most public places, such as shops, restaurants, and movie theaters, to be accessible to those with disabilities. State and local laws can also provide further protections.
Federal law isn't the only consideration for businesses. Additionally, each state interprets the law differently. Consider the case against Netflix in 2012. Lawsuits were brought in federal court in Massachusetts and California. Netflix was accused of violating the ADA by not offering "closed captioning" options for its Internet streamed movies. Illustrating the complexity of this issue, the courts reached completely opposite decisions. Massachusetts held that Netflix must comply with the ADA, while the California court found that Netflix did not fall under the ADA's definition of "public accommodation."
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I should mention one caveat to all of this. Businesses that are required to comply but don't have the ability to bring their websites into compliance can provide an accessible alternative to provide the same information, goods, and services that they provide online, like a staffed phone line. The trick, however, is that this option has to provide at least equal access, including in terms of hours of operation. And, as we know, the internet is around 24/7, so good luck with that.
When collecting feedback, ask users what type of adaptive technologies they use. This will allow you to cater your website to your particular clientele, and will help you appoint resources toward the best compliance options. Navigating the Internet is particularly challenging for people with limited or no vision. Many blind people use specialized web browsers and software that works with standard web browsers, like Internet Explorer, that have features that enable users to maximize their Internet use and experience. This screen reading software reads the HTML code for websites, and gives the user a verbal translation of what is on screen.
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.
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.