The Americans with Disabilities Act was originally passed in 1990, around the same year that the ARPANET was decommissioned and use of the Internet for commercial purposes became a reality. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was the nation’s first comprehensive civil rights law addressing the needs of people with disabilities, prohibiting discrimination in employment, public services, public accommodations, and telecommunications. This act has resulted in a number of significant changes ranging from how we interact with people with disabilities, to how modern buildings are constructed. To date, there has been little crossover between the ADA and the Internet, but that is about to change.
Starting in 2018, not only will your building and business practices need to be ADA compliant, so will your website. The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) is rolling out official compliance guidelines concerning online accessibility for the visually disabled as part of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). It may seem like 2018 is far into the distant future, but it is actually past time to take action. Even though it’s barely 2017, you’re still at risk if you aren’t in compliance. Already, major companies like Reebok, Target, and the NBA have been sued. It’s not just the big companies either, many smaller companies ranging from regional ski resorts to small banks and financial institutions have been targeted by attorneys working to enforce the new legislation.
What are the requirements to be ADA compliant?
The new standard the Department of Justice has outlined is WCAG Level AA Compliance (https://www.w3.org/WAI/WCAG20/quickref/). These guidelines have 4 primary principles that will need to be followed to be considered ADA compliant, and they’re not super straightforward.
Principle 1 – Perceivable
Information and user interface components must be presentable to users in ways they can perceive.
Principle 2 – Operable
User interface components and navigation must be operable.
Principle 3 – Understandable
Information and the operation of user interface must be understandable.
Principle 4 – Robust
Content must be robust enough that it can be interpreted reliably by a wide variety of user agents, including assistive technologies.
What action do I need to take?
Whether you manage your own website or employ a web developer you will need to implement a series of technologies and techniques designed to make your website more accessible. It is possible some of them have been done, but unless you have specifically contracted with a web developer to be ADA accessible, it is likely many of these required elements are not in place. Much of what is now required for ADA compliance has not been a standard practice. Furthermore, some of the ADA compliance required changes can conflict with older SEO techniques, so your web developer may have unintentionally moved you further from ADA compliance in an effort to improve your ranking prospects.
The key is to mitigate common barriers to web accessibility include removing any incompatibility with speech recognition or screen reading software, adding text-based alternatives to media content, fixing any poor color contrast or small text size, and removing or fixing transaction timing requirements that do not take into account intellectual disabilities.
An accessible website:
- Provides text alternatives for any non-text content including images so that content can be accessed by impaired individuals.
- Provides alternatives for time-based media such as audio and video that presents equivalent information.
- Includes content that can be presented in different ways without losing information or structure.
- Is easy to see and hear, including separating foreground from background.
- Permits all functionality from a keyboard if needed (as opposed to a cursor).
- Permits sufficient time to read and use the content.
- Is not designed in a way that is known to cause seizures.
- Includes ways to help users navigate, find content, and determine where they are.
- Includes text content that is readable and understandable.
- Operates and appears in predictable ways.
- Helps users avoid and correct mistakes.
- Is compatible with current and future user agents, including assistive web technologies.
How do I know if my website is already compliant?
As mentioned previously, unless you have specifically contracted with a web developer to perform an ADA compliance audit/adjustment, it is unlikely that you are compliant. Many of the requirements of the WCAG Level AA Compliance standards have not been industry standard practices to date.
If you would like to do a quick analysis of how your website stacks up with the ADA compliance requirements, there are a few good online testing tools. While these can’t replace a traditional audit, they can help you better understand where your business needs to improve. There is a long list available at https://www.w3.org/WAI/ER/tools/, but a quick and easy one can be found at http://www.cynthiasays.com/.
What happens if I don’t do something?
Maybe nothing for now, but you’re putting yourself and your business at risk. There are lots of questions about which websites need to be ADA compliant. We highly suggest that all websites make an effort to move towards ADA compliance as soon as possible. Websites that offer products or services that could be deemed discriminatory if “denied” to certain users (e.g., a blind user couldn’t find or apply for a certain product or service because of the way your information is presented online) are major targets. If your business provides online access to a variety of services to its customers, you must make those same services accessible to everyone, regardless of physical ability.
This likely means ADA compliance applies to your business. While the largest and most public facing entities will be the initial targets for enforcement, every business should strive to be as accessible as possible. To date, many small regional businesses have been targeted by attorneys working on behalf of disabled plaintiffs. If you do not move towards ADA compliance it is likely you will find your business targeted in the future. There is no way to predict when or where enforcement is already taking place, and most targeted businesses are choosing to settle instead of deal with expensive litigation.
More to come.
We will be closely monitoring the ADA compliance landscape as the exact specifications change and adjust. As we learn more we will share our findings with you to help you stay ahead of the curve. If you haven’t already, fill out the form below to sign-up for our email updates and you will get the latest updates on accessibility information and requirements as we get it.