The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), passed in 2014, is a law that focuses on assisting job seekers with and without disabilities in getting good jobs. The law also helps connect employers with skilled workers who benefit from education, skills training and career services from the workforce development system. WIOA helps improve the quality and accessibility of services that job seekers and employers receive at their local American Job Centers (AJCs). Title IV of WIOA amended Title I of the Rehabilitation Act. In addition, WIOA made several improvements to state vocational rehabilitation (VR) agencies, including the requirement to set aside at least 15 percent of their funding to provide transition services to youth with disabilities. WIOA also expanded VR's focus on employer engagement to provide work-based learning experiences and find competitive integrated employment for individuals with significant disabilities. This means work that is at minimum wage or higher, and with wages and benefits similar to those without disabilities performing the same work, and working alongside of coworkers without disabilities.
Unfortunately, the waters have always been muddy surrounding ADA website compliance. While there are agreed-upon standards, there aren’t inspectors and clear paths to remediate fines, as there are with physical spaces. Even the rules that do exist have never been as clear as they should be. Additionally, Congress enacted the ADA Amendments Act to clarify the meaning and interpretation of the ADA definition of “disability” to ensure that it would be broadly defined, without extensive analysis. This creates even more potential for lawsuits.
If you have a disability, you must also be qualified to perform the essential functions or duties of a job, with or without reasonable accommodation, in order to be protected from job discrimination by the ADA. This means two things. First, you must satisfy the employer's requirements for the job, such as education, employment experience, skills or licenses. Second, you must be able to perform the essential functions of the job with or without reasonable accommodation. Essential functions are the fundamental job duties that you must be able to perform on your own or with the help of a reasonable accommodation. An employer cannot refuse to hire you because your disability prevents you from performing duties that are not essential to the job.
Error prevention on important forms (3.3.4): For pages that create legal commitments or financial transactions or any other important data submissions, one of the following is true: 1) submissions are reversible, 2) the user has an opportunity to correct errors, and 3) confirmation is available that allows an opportunity to review and correct before submission.
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.
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.
Input Assistance: When users are entering input into the website, any input errors are automatically detected and written out, providing, for instance, text descriptions that identify fields that were not filled out or data that was in the wrong format. The website also provides suggestions to fix the errors. Input fields and buttons are labeled to provide their functions and instructions. If the user’s input is being used for legal purposes or financial transactions, then the user must be able to reverse submissions or correct errors.
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.
The ADA prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability and says that places of public accommodation (including private commercial enterprises) need to make accommodations for the disabled (42 U.S.C. § 12182). Importantly, a place of public accommodation, per 42 U.S.C. § 12181(7), amounts to a privately operated facility whose operations affect commerce. However, since the ADA came pre Internet era, the ADA didn’t contemplate or mention websites or apps.