Signed in 1990 at a time that most people hadn’t even used the Internet, the Americans with Disabilities Act does not explicitly regulate how websites need to follow nondiscrimination requirements. We now know that using the Internet is one of the most important ways for people with disabilities to fulfill their needs and desires. For many people with disabilities, especially impairments to sight and motion, visiting a store or other physical location can be a challenging experience. Online shopping, for example, allows people with disabilities to make the purchases they need easily and securely within the comfort of their own homes.
The next factor is language. Although web design doesn’t require someone who speaks the same language, it’s important that your designer understands your requirements. This can be more difficult if you don’t speak the same language fluently. You can interview a freelancer to explain your requirements and get a feel for their understanding of the project before you begin.
I should mention one caveat to all of this. Businesses that are required to comply but don't have the ability to bring their websites into compliance can provide an accessible alternative to provide the same information, goods, and services that they provide online, like a staffed phone line. The trick, however, is that this option has to provide at least equal access, including in terms of hours of operation. And, as we know, the internet is around 24/7, so good luck with that.
How much their services cost. One of the most important things to determine is how much you’re willing to spend on a website, and then take note of how much each agency charges. The sentiment holds true that you typically get what you pay for — if a web design agency is charging dirt cheap for a design, you probably won’t be happy with the results. There is definitely room to have a budget, but keep in mind what you’ll generally need to pay for a high-quality website.
The ADA itself holds different organizations to more/less stringent standards based on a host of factors, government funding being a major one. Government agencies themselves are usually held to the most severe standards. That said, while ADA has adopted WCAG as the defacto standard, from what I’ve seen it appears they’re going with AA compliance as the most reliable one. That said, we’ve done work with some organizations who’ve chosen to comply with AAA in an effort to be as buttoned up as possible from an accessibility and experiential perspective. We’ve also worked with some who have tighter budgers and aim for level A compliance and have a more “react and repair” mindset when they discover anything in their site that is giving someone hardship from an accessibilirt standpoint.
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.
Under the law, websites should be just as accessible as ATMs (ever notice the Braille there?), elevators, terminals and other user interfaces. Not only should your site be accessible to all on a laptop or desktop but also on tablets and mobile phones. Failing ADA compliance creates poor and awkward experiences for people with physical disabilities. Simply put, ADA compliance is assuring your website falls within a set of prescribed accessibility standards.
Prohibited discrimination may include, among other things, firing or refusing to hire someone based on a real or perceived disability, segregation, and harassment based on a disability. Covered entities are also required to provide reasonable accommodations to job applicants and employees with disabilities. A reasonable accommodation is a change in the way things are typically done that the person needs because of a disability, and can include, among other things, special equipment that allows the person to perform the job, scheduling changes, and changes to the way work assignments are chosen or communicated. An employer is not required to provide an accommodation that would involve undue hardship (significant difficulty or expense), and the individual who receives the accommodation must still perform the essential functions of the job and meet the normal performance requirements. An employee or applicant who currently engages in the illegal use of drugs is not considered qualified when a covered entity takes adverse action based on such use.
Courts have taken essentially the following position on the issue of whether websites are places of public accommodation: Website accessibility fulfills the spirit of the ADA by lowering the barriers for people with disabilities to participate in business and commerce. As such, commercial websites need to comply with ADA regulations. Judges have reached this conclusion in several high-profile cases, such as the National Federation of the Blind’s lawsuit against the Scribd digital library. As a result of this case, Scribd agreed to redesign its website to work with screen reader software by the end of 2017.
This particular lawsuit amounted to nothing more than a shakedown for cash, as the current laws would make it difficult to win the suit in court (more about this later) but it prompted me to dive deeper into the issue of ADA compliance. Through my research, I discovered there are some new laws on the horizon that could make ADA compliance mandatory, which means web designers and digital marketers need to know how to prepare.
Most recently, however, pizza chain Domino's has been brought under suit for their website not being accessible for specialty ordering. The U.S. Supreme Court refused to review the case, instead upholding the decision of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals who said the “alleged inaccessibility of Domino’s website and app impedes access to the goods and services of its physical pizza franchises—which are places of public accommodation.”
Talk to your web designer about other techniques that will make your site more user-friendly for people with disabilities. Worried that’s not in your budget? Consider the fact that DOJ fines start at $75,000. And it's still yet to be determined if a non-compliant website is liable for one fine or will be charge per page for each violation. As the recent lawsuits illustrate, though, settlements quickly add up into the millions.