The ADA is the Americans with Disabilities Act, passed almost 30 years ago in 1990. This act was originally put in motion pertaining solely to physical location. It requires establishments to provide people with disabilities easy access to various levels throughout the business. This act was set to achieve an equal experience to all people, handicapped or not.
As organizations around the world scramble to bring their sites into compliance with the World Wide Web Consortium’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), focus on other, preexisting accessibility regulations has also intensified. The United States’ Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is one of the most visible and complicated pieces of accessibility legislation. Let’s look at some of the ins and outs of what an ADA compliant website means today. Or, if you're interested in seeing the nitty-gritty details of your site's accessibility, request a free website audit report using the form on this page.
Barden v. The City of Sacramento, filed in March 1999, claimed that the City of Sacramento failed to comply with the ADA when, while making public street improvements, it did not bring its sidewalks into compliance with the ADA. Certain issues were resolved in Federal Court. One issue, whether sidewalks were covered by the ADA, was appealed to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled that sidewalks were a "program" under ADA and must be made accessible to persons with disabilities. The ruling was later appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which refused to hear the case, letting stand the ruling of the 9th Circuit Court.
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.
Many members of the business community opposed the Americans with Disabilities Act. Testifying before Congress, Greyhound Bus Lines stated that the act had the potential to "deprive millions of people of affordable intercity public transportation and thousands of rural communities of their only link to the outside world." The US Chamber of Commerce argued that the costs of the ADA would be "enormous" and have "a disastrous impact on many small businesses struggling to survive." The National Federation of Independent Businesses, an organization that lobbies for small businesses, called the ADA "a disaster for small business." Pro-business conservative commentators joined in opposition, writing that the Americans with Disabilities Act was "an expensive headache to millions" that would not necessarily improve the lives of people with disabilities.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) has specifically stated in rulings that websites should be designed so they are accessible to individuals who have vision, hearing, and physical disabilities. There’s a growing body of case law where the DOJ required companies to provide an ADA compliant website and levied hefty penalties when sites failed to measure up.
Level AA is a little more significant, and makes sites accessible to people with a wider range of disabilities, including the most common barriers to use. It won't impact the look and feel of the site as much as Level AAA compliance, though it does include guidance on color contrast and error identification. Most businesses should be aiming for Level AA conformity, and it appears to reflect the level of accessibility the DOJ expects.
Hey OB – Disclaimer – none of this is legal advice and you’d want to check with a lawyer to know if you’re at risk for any action if you’re not ADA compliant. Based on what we’ve seen if you don’t have a physical retail or service location, and you don’t receive any funding from the government you likely aren’t required to have a website that would be considered compliant. Some people expect that to change in the next few years, but that’s what we know for now. Let us know if you have more questions or would like to test your site.
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.