• Operable: Ensure not only that it's simple for users to navigate using a mouse, but also that it's easy to navigate using keyboard-only commands. Try pressing the “tab” key repeatedly to see whether you can access elements on your website using the keyboard alone. Many people who have motor disabilities, as well as people with visual impairments, rely on a keyboard. If your site relies on interaction by a computer mouse, you may want to seek a developer’s assistance in improving this aspect of accessibility.
With roots in the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Americans with Disabilities (ADA) was enacted in 1990. According to the National Network, it was designed to “prohibit 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”. ADA law has changed significantly in the past 55 years, with the potential for more changes in the future.
The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 or ADA (42 U.S.C. § 12101) is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination based on disability. It affords similar protections against discrimination to Americans with disabilities as the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which made discrimination based on race, religion, sex, national origin, and other characteristics illegal. In addition, unlike the Civil Rights Act, the ADA also requires covered employers to provide reasonable accommodations to employees with disabilities, and imposes accessibility requirements on public accommodations.
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.
One of the first major ADA lawsuits, Paralyzed Veterans of America v. Ellerbe Becket Architects and Engineers (PVA 1996) was focused on the wheelchair accessibility of a stadium project that was still in the design phase, MCI Center (now known as Capital One Arena) in Washington, D.C. Previous to this case, which was filed only five years after the ADA was passed, the DOJ was unable or unwilling to provide clarification on the distribution requirements for accessible wheelchair locations in large assembly spaces. While Section 4.33.3 of ADAAG makes reference to lines of sight, no specific reference is made to seeing over standing patrons. The MCI Center, designed by Ellerbe Becket Architects & Engineers, was designed with too few wheelchair and companion seats, and the ones that were included did not provide sight lines that would enable the wheelchair user to view the playing area while the spectators in front of them were standing. This case and another related case established precedent on seat distribution and sight lines issues for ADA enforcement that continues to present day.
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.”
This past September marked the first time a judge ruled that the ADA applies even to businesses without a physical location. Scribd, an e-book subscription service is considered to provide "a place of public accommodation." Their services are not accessible to blind persons because they cannot be read with a screen reader. The judge reasoned, "Now that the Internet plays such a critical role in the personal and professional lives of Americans, excluding disabled persons from access to covered entities that use it as their principal means of reaching the public would defeat the purpose of this important civil rights legislation."
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.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) also enforces Title II of the ADA relating to access to programs, services and activities receiving HHS federal financial assistance. This includes ensuring that people who are deaf or hard-of-hearing have access to sign language interpreters and other auxiliary aids in hospitals and clinics when needed for effective communication.
Navigable: Content that’s repeated on multiple pages can be easily skipped. All pages have informative titles, headings, and labels that describe the page’s content and hierarchy. Navigating the page must take place sequentially, in a meaningful order that preserves relationships on the page. All link text is descriptive in order to make clear where the link will take users. If users are navigating via a keyboard, the current focus of the keyboard is always highlighted and visible.
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.
For documents outlining the technical requirements for accessibility to buildings and facilities by individuals with disabilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) including technical requirements to be applied during the design, construction, and alteration of buildings and facilities covered by titles II and III of the ADA required by Federal agencies and the Department of Justice and the Department of Transportation, under the ADA visit ADA Accessibility Guidelines for Buildings and Facilities (www.access-board.gov/adaag/html/adaag.htm).
This particular lawsuit amounted to nothing more than a shakedown for cash, as the current laws would make it difficult to win the suit in court (more about this later) but it prompted me to dive deeper into the issue of ADA compliance. Through my research, I discovered there are some new laws on the horizon that could make ADA compliance mandatory, which means web designers and digital marketers need to know how to prepare.