The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) became law in 1990. The ADA is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life, including jobs, schools, transportation, and all public and private places that are open to the general public. The purpose of the law is to make sure that people with disabilities have the same rights and opportunities as everyone else. The ADA gives civil rights protections to individuals with disabilities similar to those provided to individuals on the basis of race, color, sex, national origin, age, and religion. It guarantees equal opportunity for individuals with disabilities in public accommodations, employment, transportation, state and local government services, and telecommunications. The ADA is divided into five titles (or sections) that relate to different areas of public life.
The Department has assembled an official online version of the 2010 Standards to bring together the information in one easy-to-access location. It provides the scoping and technical requirements for new construction and alterations resulting from the adoption of revised 2010 Standards in the final rules for Title II (28 CFR part 35) and Title III (28 CFR part 36).
The fastest, most certain way to be sure your website is in compliance is to contact a qualified web design agency and have them perform an audit of all your online properties. Make sure you interview the agency thoroughly first, as not all agencies are up to speed on ADA website compliance rules. A qualified web design firm will be able to identify any violations of ADA Website Compliance and outline a plan for updating your online content and properties.
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.
You probably won't have to check your site with all of the available evaluation tools out there, but it is a good idea to do so for the most common web browsers. Just as accessibility software makes it easier for people with disabilities to navigate the Internet, these tools make it easier for developers to ensure accessibility from the start. When you think you've mastered it, go back through the Section 508 compliance checklist to ensure you've met every goal.
The ADA has been criticized on the grounds that it decreases the employment rate for people with disabilities 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. 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. Despite the many criticisms, a causal link between the ADA and declining disabled employment over much of the 1990s has not been definitively identified.
Until the ADA is updated to address the special case of website accessibility, or the Department of Justice releases its website accessibility regulations, complying with WCAG 2.0 Level AA is the best way to ensure that people with disabilities have equal access to your website. The overview below is a great starting point about meeting the WCAG 2.0 Level AA recommendations.
What services they offer. Make sure the web design agency you’re interested in offers all the web design services you’re looking for — like 508 compliance, ecommerce design, or CMS integration. You’ll also want to see if the agency provides other services like SEO and PPC. You’ll likely be interested in these services after your website is up and running, and it’s extremely beneficial to work with a web design agency that does it all. You’ll want to be sure that the agency you choose provides other services like SEO and PPC since a great website is essentially useless without the proper promotion.
Federal law isn't the only consideration for businesses. Additionally, each state interprets the law differently. Consider the case against Netflix in 2012. Lawsuits were brought in federal court in Massachusetts and California. Netflix was accused of violating the ADA by not offering "closed captioning" options for its Internet streamed movies. Illustrating the complexity of this issue, the courts reached completely opposite decisions. Massachusetts held that Netflix must comply with the ADA, while the California court found that Netflix did not fall under the ADA's definition of "public accommodation."
UPDATE: Since writing this post in August 2017, several important changes have taken place in the laws regarding ADA compliance for websites. On December 26, 2017, the Department of Justice announced that they have withdrawn the Obama-era Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking mentioned in this article which intended to require ADA website compliance. The DOJ’s withdrawal announcement stated, “The Department will continue to assess whether specific technical standards are necessary and appropriate to assist covered entities with complying with the ADA.”
ADA compliance isn’t a set-it-and-forget-it thing. Compliance standards must be followed and will evolve just as your website does. There are guidelines all website contributors must know to stay within ADA guidelines. It is generally not burdensome but it does require some web managers to change their workflows. For example, loading images up to your ecommerce site will always need some of that alternative text (alt tags) mentioned above.
Additionally, in February 2018, Congress passed the ADA Education and Reform Act, a bill designed to make it harder for disabled Americans to sue businesses for discrimination. Republican lawmakers who wrote and passed the bill argue that the law will help curb “frivolous” lawsuits, while opponents have argued that this law will gut the ADA, essentially giving businesses little reason to follow the ADA guidelines at all.
One of the first major ADA lawsuits, Paralyzed Veterans of America v. Ellerbe Becket Architects and Engineers (PVA 1996) was focused on the wheelchair accessibility of a stadium project that was still in the design phase, MCI Center (now known as Capital One Arena) in Washington, D.C. Previous to this case, which was filed only five years after the ADA was passed, the DOJ was unable or unwilling to provide clarification on the distribution requirements for accessible wheelchair locations in large assembly spaces. While Section 4.33.3 of ADAAG makes reference to lines of sight, no specific reference is made to seeing over standing patrons. The MCI Center, designed by Ellerbe Becket Architects & Engineers, was designed with too few wheelchair and companion seats, and the ones that were included did not provide sight lines that would enable the wheelchair user to view the playing area while the spectators in front of them were standing. This case and another related case established precedent on seat distribution and sight lines issues for ADA enforcement that continues to present day.
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.