People with disabilities are all around us. They live in every country and often experience life in a very different manner than those individuals who don’t have emotional, mental, or physical disabilities. In fact, 15 percent of the global population is classified as disabled. Of this 15 percent, an estimated 190 million people experience significant disabilities.¹
However, in states that have enacted laws that allow private individuals to win monetary awards from non-compliant businesses (as of 2008, these include California, Florida, Hawaii, and Illinois), "professional plaintiffs" are typically found. At least one of these plaintiffs in California has been barred by courts from filing lawsuits unless he receives prior court permission.[55] Through the end of fiscal year 1998, 86% of the 106,988 ADA charges filed with and resolved by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, were either dropped or investigated and dismissed by EEOC but not without imposing opportunity costs and legal fees on employers.[50]
Title III also has applications to existing facilities. One of the definitions of "discrimination" under Title III of the ADA is a "failure to remove" architectural barriers in existing facilities. See 42 U.S.C. § 12182(b)(2)(A)(iv). This means that even facilities that have not been modified or altered in any way after the ADA was passed still have obligations. The standard is whether "removing barriers" (typically defined as bringing a condition into compliance with the ADAAG) is "readily achievable", defined as "...easily accomplished without much difficulty or expense".
Under Title III, no individual may be discriminated against on the basis of disability with regards to the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, or accommodations of any place of public accommodation by any person who owns, leases, or operates a place of public accommodation. Public accommodations include most places of lodging (such as inns and hotels), recreation, transportation, education, and dining, along with stores, care providers, and places of public displays.
Absent the adoption of specific technical requirements for websites through rulemaking, public accommodations have flexibility in how to comply with the ADA’s general requirements of nondiscrimination and effective communication. Accordingly, noncompliance with a voluntary technical standard for website accessibility does not necessarily indicate noncompliance with the ADA.
Since March 15, 2012, ADA compliance with the 2010 Standards will be required for new construction and alterations. In the period between September 15, 2010 and March 15, 2012, covered entities may choose between the 1991 Standards ADA Compliance (without the elevator exemption for Title II facilities), the Uniform Federal Accessibility Standards (Title II facilities only), and the 2010 Standards ADA Compliance.
Upon discovering issues faced by disabled government employees and the public, revisions to section 508 were made. The issues that were uncovered involved websites, documents, and software programs. As of January 2018, the updated 508 standards require all federal agencies and contractors to create web content accessible to all. The updated standards also include Website 508 compliance.
ADA website compliance is about making sure that everyone has equal access to all the elements on your website and apps. That may mean you need to provide alternatives for some of the functions and content on your site in order to meet ADA website compliance standards. Here’s a quick rundown of some of the accommodations that need to be incorporated into your website to meet the ADA guidelines:
Our team of experienced experts utilizes knowledge and proprietary technology to provide extensive detailed reports on what compliance issues exist on your entity’s website and PDFs. If you have a trusted developer to work on your website and PDFs, you can have them make the needed updates and changes. Don’t have a developer? ADA Site Compliance offers a custom, managed compliance solution for entities of all sizes. Our in-house developers will analyze, remediate and monitor your site’s ADA compliance for you.
The Trump administration’s DOJ had previously promised to begin using WCAG 2.0 as its formal standard for web accessibility. However, the DOJ recently included this action as part of the department’s “inactive list,” which means that it’s not likely to be adopted in the near future. As a result, a clear standard to judge an organizations’ web accessibility will continue to be interpreted, and the number of ADA website lawsuits is not expected to slow down any time soon.
You may have installed a ramp, increased the width of your door frames, or made other accommodations to ensure that your physical premises are accessible to all. The requirement for equal access used to only apply to physical locations and storefronts, but now the government is actively ensuring that the requirements for ADA accessibility include online properties such as websites and mobile apps.
However, in states that have enacted laws that allow private individuals to win monetary awards from non-compliant businesses (as of 2008, these include California, Florida, Hawaii, and Illinois), "professional plaintiffs" are typically found. At least one of these plaintiffs in California has been barred by courts from filing lawsuits unless he receives prior court permission.[55] Through the end of fiscal year 1998, 86% of the 106,988 ADA charges filed with and resolved by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, were either dropped or investigated and dismissed by EEOC but not without imposing opportunity costs and legal fees on employers.[50]
People with disabilities may use a number of special tools to interact with websites such as: screen readers, speech recognition software, touch screen devices, captioning devices (for video content), Braille, screen magnifiers, alternative keyboard devices, and head pointers. It is important to make sure your website complies with standards that make it possible for those with diverse disabilities to successfully interact with your website. 
Leading web developers have been pioneering accessibility and publishing standards since 1994. In 1999, the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) and the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) created the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). In essence, the people who determine how the internet is written came together to advise web developers on how to make websites accessible not only to people with disabilities, but to all web users, including those with highly limited devices.
The ADA has been criticized on the grounds that it decreases the employment rate for people with disabilities[48] and raises the cost of doing business for employers, in large part due to the additional legal risks, which employers avoid by quietly avoiding hiring people with disabilities. Some researchers believe that the law has been ineffectual.[49] Between 1991 (after the enactment of the ADA) and 1995, the employment rate of men with disabilities dropped by 7.8% regardless of age, educational level, or type of disability, with the most affected being young, less-educated and mentally disabled men.[50] Despite the many criticisms, a causal link between the ADA and declining disabled employment over much of the 1990s has not been definitively identified.[51]
DOJ’s September 25 response did not do what the members asked, but it did provide some helpful guidance and invited Congress to take legislative action to address the exploding website accessibility litigation landscape. DOJ first said it was “evaluating whether promulgating specific web accessibility standards through regulations is necessary and appropriate to ensure compliance with the ADA.” (This is helpful – to at least know this issue has not fallen totally off DOJ’s radar.) It continued:
Webpage designers often have aesthetic preferences and may want everyone to see their webpages in exactly the same color, size and layout. But because of their disability, many people with low vision do not see webpages the same as other people. Some see only small portions of a computer display at one time. Others cannot see text or images that are too small. Still others can only see website content if it appears in specific colors. For these reasons, many people with low vision use specific color and font settings when they access the Internet – settings that are often very different from those most people use. For example, many people with low vision need to use high contrast settings, such as bold white or yellow letters on a black background. Others need just the opposite – bold black text on a white or yellow background. And, many must use softer, more subtle color combinations.
As I mentioned above, under each WCAG 2.1 principle is a list of guidelines, and under each guideline are compliance standards, with techniques and failure examples at each level. Some guidelines include only Level A items; others include items for multiple levels of conformance, building from A to AAA. At each stage, you can easily see what more you would need to do to reach Level AA or AAA. In this way, many websites include elements at multiple levels of accessibility.
“Any business that is considered a “place of public accommodation” is required to provide equal access to services under the nondiscrimination requirements of Title III of ADA. When you look at the guidelines closely, this includes hotels, entertainment venues, legal and accounting firms, retail stores, and virtually every business that is not a private club, including businesses that exist solely on the web.” (Read full article.)
Without a crystal ball, it’s difficult to gauge where the Trump administration will direct the DOJ on ADA regulations in relation to websites moving forward, if they do at all. The administration has already emphasized a desire to move away from regulation and those with a vested interest in the application of the ADA to websites have taken that as a signal that the already thrice delayed process will continue to be pushed down the list of priorities.
That’s good news if you are one of the many Americans who have a visual, hearing, or mobility disability that makes it difficult to access some information on the web. If you are a business owner who hasn’t made provisions to ensure that your website and other online assets are ADA compliant, you could be looking at a host of legal and financial penalties.
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.
On the legal side, ambiguity in the law and the speed at which technology and dependence on the Internet has developed created an opportunity for litigation all over our nation. As these cases have moved through our system, the courts have been nearly split -- with the 1st, 3rd and 7th Circuits ruling that the ADA does apply to websites, while the 6th, 9th and 11th Circuits have ruled that it does not. These latter rulings have all been based on the interpretation that the ADA is focused on physical location and requires a nexus test. Other circuit courts in the United States have yet to rule on the topic.
The ADA statute identifies who is a person with a disability, who has obligations under the ADA, general non-discrimination requirements and other basic obligations. It delegates fleshing out those obligations to federal agencies. The agencies issue regulations and design standards. The regulations have the details on the rights of people with disabilities and responsibilities of employers, state and local governments, transportation providers, businesses and non-profit organizations. The design standards specify how many entrances need to be accessible, how many toilet rooms and the design for those elements.  To know what the ADA requires, you need to read the law, regulations and design standards.  
Last spring, I was approached by my local chapter of the Legal Marketing Association about presenting alongside attorney Dana Hoffman of Young Moore on the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and its application to law firm website design. The presentation was fun and informative, and I was honored shortly thereafter the opportunity to expand the focus for an audience of litigators at the 2017 Defense Research Institute’s Retail and Hospitality Conference in Chicago. I’ll be presenting on this topic this Friday alongside Amy Richardson of Harris Wiltshire & Grannis. Amy has worked on both the litigation and government enforcement sides of this issue and we’re both looking forward to talking with attorneys representing clients across the business spectrum on this interesting topic.
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