What is ADA compliance?
On July 26, 1990, the Democrats and Republicans put aside their differences and passed the 1990 Americans with Disabilities (ADA) Act which required the nation to "become compliant and make virtually everything more accessible to Americans with special needs." The bill's sponsor, former Senator Tom Harkin from Iowa, recently remarked that championing the ADA through Congress was the proudest accomplishment in his 30 years in the Senate. Growing up, Senator Harkin had a deaf brother he was close to, so he witnessed firsthand how difficult even daily activities can be for the disabled.
The need for ADA compliant websites
Specifically, the American Disabilities Act (ADA) ensures that commercial and public entities provide access and accommodation for individuals with a range of disabilities.
Back in 1990, when George H.W. Bush signed the ADA into effect, the Internet was just beginning to be used for business purposes. If a person with a disability sued a company or governmental agency for ADA violations, they were usually demanding wheelchair ramps, or some other form of physical accommodation.
Fast forward to 2010. With e-commerce now in full swing, the ADA was amended to include websites as well, since they are classified as a “place of public accommodation” under the Act. In summary, ADA compliance is about making all of the elements of your company's sites and company's apps accessible to everyone.
Even though there is no specific law on the books requiring sites to be in ADA compliance, it is generally accepted that sites must be accessible to the disabled under the public accommodation clause. Recent years have seen an increase in lawsuits filed against businesses and governments, alleging that their website development practices violate the ADA by not being sufficiently accessible to people with disabilities. As our whole society becomes more and more equitable, it's likely that this type of litigation will grow in the future.
The number of lawsuits filed against businesses in 2018 for not being ADA compliant has risen 181% compared to 2017. This includes local businesses, large corporations, and even universities Don't be next!
In the US there are over 38.3 million people with severe disabilities. These potential clients might not be able to have access to your website. Becoming compliant can help to increase your business!
By making your site ADA-compliant you can avoid possible lawsuits. If you are a business that exists to benefit the public, a local or state government agency, or are a private employer with 15 or more employees, you should adhere to ADA regulations.
In accessing the Internet, many disabled people use what's called "assistive technology" to operate their computers, smartphones, and other electronic devices. These assistive technologies include text enlargement software, screen readers, and voice control programs. For instance, people with poor sight can see the screen better by being able to adjust the color, contrast, and font sizes on a site. In general, issues arise when a web development team makes the mistaken assumption that every user will experience their site in the same way. Failing to include alt tags for the hearing impaired is another good example of making a site inaccessible to the disabled.
In addition, incorporating elements in your site to comply with the 2010 ADA ruling has added benefits. By making these accessibility changes, you can increase your target market and improve your site's overall usability. Making the site accessible to everyone also helps more people to find your site due to the more precise SEO (search engine optimization) techniques that are involved.
According to the United States Census Bureau, about 56.7 million people — 19 percent of the population — have a disability, with more than half of these Americans reporting their disability as "severe." This means that about 1 in 5 people in the United States have some form of a disability. Coping with a disability often results in problems in getting and keeping a job, which means that there is a higher incidence of poverty among the disabled. In fact, the U.S. Census report indicates that only 41 percent of people age 21 to 64 with any disability were employed, as opposed to 79 percent of those without a disability being gainfully employed.
Other disability findings in the United States include:
- Citizens who are 80 and older are about eight times as likely to be disabled as young people, 0 to 15.
- Around eight million people have difficulty seeing, including 2.0 million who are actually blind or totally unable to see.
- More than seven million people experienced difficulty hearing, including 1.1 million people with severe hearing loss.
- About 20 million people have difficulty lifting and grasping. This includes, for example, lifting objects and using a computer keyboard or a smartphone to access websites.
It's inevitable that as Baby Boomers and the U.S. population as a whole continue to age, this number will continue to grow and is expected to almost double to approximately 98 million disabled people in the U.S. by 2060. With these facts in mind, the public respects companies that are fully committed to serving all Americans in an equitable manner. Thus, being ADA-compliant in the way you present your company online can also boost your company's overall business reputation - and sales.
The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) believes that the ADA applies to web development, even if it is not acting to issue regulations. Even so, they have made it clear that the lack of regulations doesn’t release anyone from the need to make their sites accessible.
The Department has consistently taken the position that the absence of a specific regulation does not serve as a basis for noncompliance with a statute’s requirements.
Because web accessibility regulations haven’t been made clear, it’s easy for organizations to assume that they can’t be sued. Without standards to follow, companies are forced to interpret the ADA, practicing website accessibility as they see fit while trying to avoid any lawsuits.
Under Title II of the ADA, some of the common problems with site accessibility have to do with:
- Using images on a website without text equivalents
- Posting documents in a non-accessible format
- Using colors or font sizes that prevent some visitors from being able to read your site
- Failing to ensure that videos and other multimedia features are accessible by all.
Other solutions include adding a skip navigation link at the top of your web pages, minimizing flashing, and designing forms so they can be filled out by people with disabilities. Your web development staff should also provide a way for disabled web visitors to request special assistance and should institute procedures to ensure that all web visitors, including those who are disabled, will receive a quick response to any request for help.
Is WCAG 2.0 a legal requirement?
Produced by a working group, legal requirements for site accessibility can be classified under what's called the W3C Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI). This Initiative sets forth numerous recommendations for making web content more accessible. This set of recommendations is referred to as the WCAG 2.0/2.1 guidelines.
By following these guidelines, your site will be accessible to a wide range of people with disabilities, including people with:
- Hearing loss and deafness,
- Low vision and blindness,
- Cognitive limitations and learning disabilities,
- Photo sensitivity, limited movement, speech disabilities, or a combination of these factors.
As an added compliance incentive, it should be noted that following WCAG 2.0/2.1 guidelines will make your site easier to navigate for all of your visitors, not just those with disabilities.
WCAG 2.0 actually has three levels of compliance (A, AA and AAA). Experience has shown that if a website complies with Level AA, courts will generally find that to be enough to be compliant with the ADA. Established in 1994, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) is the main international standards organization for the Internet. They are charged with creating the protocols to ensure the long term viability of the Web.
In June 2018, the W3C adopted WCAG 2.1 criteria. Because WCAG 2.1 is so new — and because W3C is not a legislative body — it is currently not known whether the 2.1 criteria will set a new baseline standard, or not.
In light of all of this, every business that engages in e-commerce should carefully consider whether its site could, in fact, be deemed "a place of public accommodation," and if so, take action to be in compliance with WCAG 2.0 (and 2.1), Level AA. In looking at your website development practices, adopting the Level AA success criteria is definitely your best and safest strategy.
Lawsuits for noncompliance
The number of ADA site accessibility lawsuits is on the rise and generally, the courts are allowing most of these cases to move forward. For example, the number of ADA compliance lawsuits recorded in the first six (6) months of 2018 surpassed the number of ADA compliance lawsuits brought to court during all of 2017. The top ten states with the most ADA lawsuits in 2018 included: California, New York, Florida, Arizona, Pennsylvania, Texas, Georgia, Louisiana, Massachusetts and New Jersey.
Seyfarth Shaw LLP, an international law firm headquartered in Chicago, Illinois, is well known for their innovative business practices, including development of the Seyfarth Lean, a client service model that incorporates elements of Lean Six Sigma with advanced technology. Their 2018 report is widely considered the most reputable accounting of the current state of ADA web compliance. The numbers presented in Seyfarth Shaw’s report are sourced from PACER, the Federal court’s docketing system.
Their report says that there were 1,053 ADA lawsuits in the first six months of 2018 and predicted that by the end of 2018, more than 2,000 website accessibility lawsuits related to site accessibility will be filed in Federal court.
Even so, Seyfarth Shaw’s report only accounts for Federal lawsuits. It does not include state suits, like those brought about through California’s Unruh Act. It also does not include demand letters, which typically threaten a lawsuit, but most often lead to a settlement of some type instead. Satisfying the requirements within a demand letter often requires payment by the company who had a non-compliant site, as well having to institute a mandatory annual site audit in the future. Therefore, companies are smart to think ahead, consider their site equivalent to a place of public accommodation, adopt the ADA standards, and remove the possibility of being sued.
In June 2018, an interesting ADA development occurred. More than 100 members of a bipartisan U.S. house delegation asked U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions to declare whether legal action under the ADA regarding websites is unfair, and whether it violates due process. They also asked the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to clarify exactly what is required for a site to be ADA-compliant. On September 25, 2018, a DOJ ruling was rendered. Though the DOJ did not go as far as the pro-business delegation has hoped, they did rule that companies do have some "flexibility" in how their websites adhere to the ADA. The situation is still evolving.
Becoming ADA compliant
How much does it cost to raise your site to ADA compliance standards?
The cost depends on the size of your site and number of compliance issues found. Feel free to contact us for a complimentary quote. We can provide a detailed analysis and prioritize the issues that need to be addressed first. Our experienced team can fix your accessibility issues and train your web developers on how to create new content that is accessibility-compliant.
WCAG Audit Report
Get a comprehensive page by page WCAG 2.1 website audit report that provides turnkey solutions.
Support & Remediation
We will prioritize, plan and implement web accessibility compliance solutions for your site.
Train your team with the necessary tools to ensure long-term ADA website compliance.
Schedule Your Free WGAC Consultation
Our team of experienced ADA compliant experts can help your website meet the current WCAG guideline. Whether you were just served with a lawsuit or trying to prevent potential litigation, SEM Dynamics' experts can create a web accessibility compliance solution that is right for your business, timeline, and budget.
Let us help you achieve ADA compliance. Contact us today!