While organizations that service the public may find it challenging to follow all the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the compelling economic argument for following the law can be a source of inspiration and energy to meet and exceed compliance.¹ The ADA initially became law in 1990 and received major revisions in 2010. It is an anti-discrimination, civil rights law that both protects and assists people with disabilities at public locations, both physical and online.²
However, agreeing with the ethical standards set by this act and being clear about what it means for your business can be two different things.
According to Title III of the ADA, the law “prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability by public accommodations and requires places of public accommodation and commercial facilities to be designed, constructed, and altered in compliance with the accessibility standards established by this part3.” The act text specifically lists restaurants, grocery stores, banks, spas, schools, and performing arts venues as locations that need to comply with the law, requiring practical accessibility considerations. Additionally, the 2010 law revision includes provisions requiring businesses make their websites accessible even if the business do not have a “bricks and mortar” presence.³ The Department of Justice has been clear in establishing Title III also applies to public online accommodations. Title III states if people without disabilities can use a website, it is discrimination to have barriers in place that prevents people from using it. Specifically, Section 508 targets website accessibility stating “all website content be accessible to people with disabilities.”4
Eliminating Web Barriers
While there are many tools people with disabilities can use to interact with websites, not all designs and media elements are created equally. An organization may unintentionally hinder a page’s accessibility by placing important information like the title or contact information inside an image without including alternative text for screen readers. Alternatively, a business might put important information in documents that screen readers can’t access instead of an accessible PDF. The 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design5 and Guidance on the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design6 provide a wealth of insight into website design issues that make sites difficult-to-impossible for people with disabilities to use. Other common barriers include poor color contrast, non-descriptive hyperlinks, and missing page headings. The good news is accessibility barriers are often easy to remove and don’t require changing how a page’s features work.
Website stakeholders can turn to the ADA guidelines best practices and the World Wide Web Consortium’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines WCAG 2.1 for guidance on meeting ADA online requirements. These exhaustive guidelines explore how people with disabilities interact with websites using assistive technologies such as screen readers. Over 70% of people with disabilities have invisible disabilities like colorblindness which affects the way these individuals use the Internet.
Already Meeting ADA Requirements? Shout It from the Rooftops
If your website has gone through 508 compliance testing and already meets the ADA accessibility requirements, it’s in your business’ best interest to make that clear to your customers. Make an accessibility statement. People with disabilities represent a large global market, one that is often underestimated: According to the American Institutes for Research® (AIR), working-age Americans with disabilities are a significant market segment that earns around $490 billion a year in disposable income.7 According to AIR®’s report, most businesses aren’t taking advantage of serving this segment of the population7. Not only are people with disabilities valuable consumers themselves with billions in disposable income, they also influence the spending decisions of other people around them, which further illustrates the level of influence ADA compliance can have on a business. The same AIR® report also argues that it’s in a business’ best interest to go along with the societal shift towards greater inclusion, so paying keen attention to people with disabilities serves an often ignored population segment as well as proxy segments.
If digital accessibility is a recent improvement, these companies should be eager to let the public know what they’ve done to make their online experience even better.
Web Accessibility is for Everyone
Improving online accessibility benefits the entire audience; the improvements don’t benefit just people with disabilities. For example, structuring site headers to better guide screen readers helps improve overall content structure. Additionally, video captions are a great convenience for people who want to listen without disturbing others, are listening in a noisy place, or simply couldn’t understand what someone said. Audio transcripts make it easier for people to skim or search text quickly when they don’t have time to sit through an entire podcast or video. Making a website design touch-compliant with large buttons makes the content work well across all sorts of devices with different screen sizes and user-interface devices.
Being ADA compliant helps you delight customers through increased ease of use and attract new customers who might not have found your site otherwise. A site that’s organized and labeled according to WCAG 2.1 guidelines is much easier for search engines to index properly. Accessible websites have been shown to have a wider audience reach compared to inaccessible websites.
The Consequences of Ignoring Your ADA Requirements
Websites that don’t meet ADA requirements for accessibility are missing out on opportunities to connect with a wider customer base.
The World Wide Web Consortium lists a number of additional financial benefits8 businesses could be missing out on such as brand enhancement, minimizing legal risk, driving innovation, and extending market reach. While taking a positive approach to complying with the ADA regulations, there’s also the fact that failing to meet ADA obligations could lead to legal expenses and bad publicity.
According to the LA Times, the number of ADA non-compliance lawsuits filed against websites jumped 90 percent from 1,053 to more than 2,000 in 2017 to 2018 respectively9. Winn-Dixie Stores Inc., Domino’s Pizza Inc., Harvard University, and MIT have all been on the receiving end of a web accessibility lawsuit.9 As businesses shift towards online exclusivity for services, it’s going to be more important than ever to follow Section 508 compliance or your business risks receiving a demand letter. Businesses that work with a Canadian audience will also need to be in compliance with the AODA laws.10
Improving accessibility on your business website and other digital properties isn’t just a smart business decision; it’s also a legal obligation. It’s time to take things to the next level and don’t just settle for minimal ADA website compliance: take pride in your work and promote your accessibility to the wider consumer market. There’s always more to do: run your website through an accessibility checker, creating a Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT™)11, run accessibility audits with accessibility software, and look into an accessibility management platform. Accessibility training should be a part of your organization’s online design criteria.
An Innovative Solution
eSSENTIAL Accessibility has developed a whitepaper to help organizations move from WCAG 2.0 to follow WCAG 2.1 and achieve and maintain compliance with ADA standards and regulations. This includes technical specifications to improve website and application accessibility via an ADA Compliance Checklist. Learn more by downloading eSSENTIAL Accessibility’s “WCAG 2.1 Checklist”now.
- The Business Case for Digital Accessibility WC3, 2018
- An Overview of the Americans With Disabilities Act, ADA National Network, 2017
- Americans with Disabilities Act: Title III Regulations ADA, 2010
- Section 508 HHS, 2019
- 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design Department of Justice, 2010
- Guidance on the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design Department of Justice, 2010
- A Hidden Market: The Purchasing Power of Working-Age Adults With Disabilities American Institutes for Research, 2018
- Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 WC3, 2018
- Lawsuits targeting business websites over ADA violations are on the rise LA Times, 2018
- About the AODA Accessibility Services Canada, 2017