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 On December 26, 2017, the Department of Justice announced that they have withdrawn the Obama-era Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking mentioned in this article which intended to require ADA website compliance.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.”
Starting January 18, 2018, that 12-month clock runs out and to be ADA compliant you need to have your website compliant with WCAG 2.0 A/AA standards. All federal websites must meet compliance with all items in WCAG 2.0 AA by this time. This is not entirely a new requirement as the Department of Justice (DOJ), which enforces the ADA, issued preliminary rules back in 2010. However, the DOJ is now expected to enforce updates to Section 508 that was approved back in January 2017. Please note that WCAG 2.0 AA guidelines are endorsed by DOJ and these guidelines combined with Section 508 Standards are now recognized as the baseline requirements for website accessibility and expected to be used by the DOJ as a benchmark in settling website accessibility matters.
Title II applies to public transportation provided by public entities through regulations by the U.S. Department of Transportation. It includes the National Railroad Passenger Corporation (Amtrak), along with all other commuter authorities. This section requires the provision of paratransit services by public entities that provide fixed-route services. ADA also sets minimum requirements for space layout in order to facilitate wheelchair securement on public transport.[20]
Starting January 18, 2018, that 12-month clock runs out and to be ADA compliant you need to have your website compliant with WCAG 2.0 A/AA standards. All federal websites must meet compliance with all items in WCAG 2.0 AA by this time. This is not entirely a new requirement as the Department of Justice (DOJ), which enforces the ADA, issued preliminary rules back in 2010. However, the DOJ is now expected to enforce updates to Section 508 that was approved back in January 2017. Please note that WCAG 2.0 AA guidelines are endorsed by DOJ and these guidelines combined with Section 508 Standards are now recognized as the baseline requirements for website accessibility and expected to be used by the DOJ as a benchmark in settling website accessibility matters.
More than 1 billion people live with disabilities; over 57 million reside in the United States, many of whom are unable to participate in everyday activities, such as using computers, mobile phones, tablets, and similar technologies. Devices that should help to improve quality of life for disabled individuals often become a source of frustration due to the inaccessibility of websites. By making your website ADA compliant, you will gain a new and loyal revenue source, and minimize the possibility of legal action against your company.
Visual: Use a screen reader to help you navigate the site. Users who are blind must be able to understand any element on the site where they land and if it contains functionality such as a link. Several ways to emulate this are to close your eyes or turn your monitor around and navigate the site using the keyboard. If, you as a tester, land on an element and a screen reader cannot make sense of what the element is, that is an issue of ADA compliance. For users with poor vision or colorblindness, testers have to make sure colors are distinguishable, and these can include background colors, link colors, font colors, etc. Screen magnifiers are a great way to test for poor visibility. There is a great tool known as Color Oracle that can emulate what a user with colorblindness sees on the screen. If colors can’t be distinguishable, that is an issue of ADA compliance. Make sure text alternatives are provided to images that convey information (look at the alt tag on the code).

In addition to the provisions about service dogs, the Department’s revised ADA regulations have a new, separate provision about miniature horses that have been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities. (Miniature horses generally range in height from 24 inches to 34 inches measured to the shoulders and generally weigh between 70 and 100 pounds.) Entities covered by the ADA must modify their policies to permit miniature horses where reasonable. The regulations set out four assessment factors to assist entities in determining whether miniature horses can be accommodated in their facility. The assessment factors are (1) whether the miniature horse is housebroken; (2) whether the miniature horse is under the owner’s control; (3) whether the facility can accommodate the miniature horse’s type, size, and weight; and (4) whether the miniature horse’s presence will not compromise legitimate safety requirements necessary for safe operation of the facility.
The ADA requires that title II entities (State and local governments) and title III entities (businesses and nonprofit organizations that serve the public) communicate effectively with people who have communication disabilities. The goal is to ensure that communication with people with these disabilities is equally effective as communication with people without disabilities.
Title III of the ADA requires that every owner, lessor, or operator of a “place of public accommodation” provide equal access to users who meet ADA standards for disability. With roughly 1.66 billion people around the world making online purchases in 2017, one might reasonably presume that this concept extends to websites, but from a legal standpoint, there is a surprising amount of grey area.
There have been some notable cases regarding the ADA. For example, two major hotel room marketers (Expedia.com and Hotels.com) with their business presence on the Internet were sued because its customers with disabilities could not reserve hotel rooms, through their websites without substantial extra efforts that persons without disabilities were not required to perform.[58] These represent a major potential expansion of the ADA in that this, and other similar suits (known as "bricks vs. clicks"), seeks to expand the ADA's authority to cyberspace, where entities may not have actual physical facilities that are required to comply.

Access Now v. Southwest Airlines was a case where the District Court decided that the website of Southwest Airlines was not in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, because the ADA is concerned with things with a physical existence and thus cannot be applied to cyberspace. Judge Patricia A. Seitz found that the "virtual ticket counter" of the website was a virtual construct, and hence not a "public place of accommodation." As such, "To expand the ADA to cover 'virtual' spaces would be to create new rights without well-defined standards."[76]
Olmstead v. L.C.[65] 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.
Visual: Use a screen reader to help you navigate the site. Users who are blind must be able to understand any element on the site where they land and if it contains functionality such as a link. Several ways to emulate this are to close your eyes or turn your monitor around and navigate the site using the keyboard. If, you as a tester, land on an element and a screen reader cannot make sense of what the element is, that is an issue of ADA compliance. For users with poor vision or colorblindness, testers have to make sure colors are distinguishable, and these can include background colors, link colors, font colors, etc. Screen magnifiers are a great way to test for poor visibility. There is a great tool known as Color Oracle that can emulate what a user with colorblindness sees on the screen. If colors can’t be distinguishable, that is an issue of ADA compliance. Make sure text alternatives are provided to images that convey information (look at the alt tag on the code).
[12] See “Pet Ownership for the Elderly and Persons with Disabilities”, 73 Federal Register 208 (27 October 2008), pp. 63834-63838; United States. (2004). Reasonable Accommodations under the Fair Housing Act: Joint Statement of the Department of Housing and Urban Development and Department of Justice. Washington, D.C: U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and U.S. Department of Justice [Electronic Version]. Retrieved 03/06/2014 from http://www.justice.gov/crt/about/hce/jointstatement_ra.php.
In recent cases, the U.S. Department of Justice has repeatedly sided with plaintiffs arguing that a private company’s website needs to be accessible, despite any other mitigating factors. One thing is for certain, however: The number of federal lawsuits alleging violations of the ADA is currently accelerating at a rapid pace. Between January and August 2017, there were 432 ADA lawsuits filed in federal court—more than the total number of ADA lawsuits in 2015 and 2016 combined.
Since March 15, 2012, ADA compliance with the 2010 Standards will be required for new construction and alterations. In the period between September 15, 2010 and March 15, 2012, covered entities may choose between the 1991 Standards ADA Compliance (without the elevator exemption for Title II facilities), the Uniform Federal Accessibility Standards (Title II facilities only), and the 2010 Standards ADA Compliance.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in several areas, including employment, transportation, public accommodations, communications and access to state and local government’ programs and services. As it relates to employment, Title I of the ADA protects the rights of both employees and job seekers. The ADA also establishes requirements for telecommunications relay services. Title IV, which is regulated by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), also requires closed captioning of federally funded public service announcements.


Emotional support animals, comfort animals, and therapy dogs are not service animals under Title II and Title III of the ADA. Other species of animals, whether wild or domestic, trained or untrained, are not considered service animals either. The work or tasks performed by a service animal must be directly related to the individual’s disability. It does not matter if a person has a note from a doctor that states that the person has a disability and needs to have the animal for emotional support. A doctor’s letter does not turn an animal into a service animal.
Your site would need to have a text only option, with all functionality accessible through a keyboard for visitors with mobility issues. Once you make these and other changes to meet ADA guidelines, your site would need to be tested by a website development company familiar with ADA compliance issues to be sure that visitors who use assistive technology such as screen readers are able to access your web content fully.
Legal precedent is changing, and ADA compliance related lawsuits are becoming more successful, and the courts are seeing more of them as a result. Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act pertains to private sector businesses. Lately, those protections are more frequently expanding into digital territory as web and mobile applications become more necessary in our day-to-day lives.
Access Now v. Southwest Airlines was a case where the District Court decided that the website of Southwest Airlines was not in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, because the ADA is concerned with things with a physical existence and thus cannot be applied to cyberspace. Judge Patricia A. Seitz found that the "virtual ticket counter" of the website was a virtual construct, and hence not a "public place of accommodation." As such, "To expand the ADA to cover 'virtual' spaces would be to create new rights without well-defined standards."[76]
The ADA states that a "covered entity" shall not discriminate against "a qualified individual with a disability".[12] This applies to job application procedures, hiring, advancement and discharge of employees, job training, and other terms, conditions, and privileges of employment. "Covered entities" include employers with 15 or more employees, as well as employment agencies, labor organizations, and joint labor-management committees.[13] There are strict limitations on when a covered entity can ask job applicants or employees disability-related questions or require them to undergo medical examination, and all medical information must be kept confidential.[14][15]
In 2018 alone, there were around 1,000 lawsuits related to website accessibility. Industries affected include e-commerce stores, restaurants, consumer goods companies and more. These lawsuits even impacted major corporations such as Hershey's, Burger King and Nike, to name a few. With no slowdown in lawsuits expected, it's essential that companies comply with ADA standards to avoid costly litigation and negative press.

In the employment setting, employers may be obligated to permit employees to bring their “service animal in training” into the workplace as a reasonable accommodation, especially if the animal is being trained to assist the employee with work-related tasks. The untrained animal may be excluded, however, if it becomes a workplace disruption or causes an undue hardship in the workplace.
This book is printed courtesy of the ADA National Network. The Southwest ADA Center would like to thank Jacquie Brennan (author), Ramin Taheri, Richard Petty, Kathy Gips, Sally Weiss, Wendy Strobel Gower, Erin Marie Sember-Chase, Marian Vessels, and the ADA Knowledge Translation Center at the University of Washington for their contributions to this booklet.
In 2018 alone, there were around 1,000 lawsuits related to website accessibility. Industries affected include e-commerce stores, restaurants, consumer goods companies and more. These lawsuits even impacted major corporations such as Hershey's, Burger King and Nike, to name a few. With no slowdown in lawsuits expected, it's essential that companies comply with ADA standards to avoid costly litigation and negative press.
One thing to check is that your website includes alternative text (aka alt text) for each image. Alt text is a word or phrase that describes an image for those with a visual impairment. Having accurate alt text is important not only because it enables screen reading software, such as NVDA or JAWS, to describe images to visually impaired users, but also because it enables search engines to display images based on written descriptions and to display search results more accurately. This type of testing can be tedious to do manually, so consider using an automated system to find potential violations and issues faster. The W3C has a list of web accessibility evaluation tools.
Additionally, in February 2018, Congress passed the ADA Education and Reform Act, a bill designed to make it harder for disabled Americans to sue businesses for discrimination. Republican lawmakers who wrote and passed the bill argue that the law will help curb “frivolous” lawsuits, while opponents have argued that this law will gut the ADA, essentially giving businesses little reason to follow the ADA guidelines at all.

Video remote interpreting (VRI) is a fee-based service that uses video conferencing technology to access an off-site interpreter to provide real-time sign language or oral interpreting services for conversations between hearing people and people who are deaf or have hearing loss. The new regulations give covered entities the choice of using VRI or on-site interpreters in situations where either would be effective. VRI can be especially useful in rural areas where on-site interpreters may be difficult to obtain. Additionally, there may be some cost advantages in using VRI in certain circumstances. However, VRI will not be effective in all circumstances. For example, it will not be effective if the person who needs the interpreter has difficulty seeing the screen (either because of vision loss or because he or she cannot be properly positioned to see the screen, because of an injury or other condition). In these circumstances, an on-site interpreter may be required.

Until the ADA is updated to address the special case of website accessibility, or the Department of Justice releases its website accessibility regulations, complying with WCAG 2.0 Level AA is the best way to ensure that people with disabilities have equal access to your website. The overview below is a great starting point about meeting the WCAG 2.0 Level AA recommendations.
Spector v. Norwegian Cruise Line Ltd.[64] was a case that was decided by the United States Supreme Court in 2005. The defendant argued that as a vessel flying the flag of a foreign nation it was exempt from the requirements of the ADA. This argument was accepted by a federal court in Florida and, subsequently, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. However, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed the ruling of the lower courts on the basis that Norwegian Cruise Lines was a business headquartered in the United States whose clients were predominantly Americans and, more importantly, operated out of port facilities throughout the United States.
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