The idea of federal legislation enhancing and extending civil rights legislation to millions of Americans with disabilities gained bipartisan support in late 1988 and early 1989. In early 1989 both Congress and the newly-inaugurated Bush White House worked separately, then jointly, to write legislation capable of expanding civil rights without imposing undue harm or costs on those already in compliance with existing rules and laws.
“The idea of equal access, equal opportunity has sort of evolved in its application from brick and mortar to eCommerce. At first, many companies were worried about the desktop experience. Now, the concern extends to both smart phones and devices. Wherever a consumer accesses your content – whether it be directly through the web or an app – you need to be concerned about accessibility.”
This title prohibits private places of public accommodation from discriminating against individuals with disabilities. Examples of public accommodations include privately-owned, leased or operated facilities like hotels, restaurants, retail merchants, doctor’s offices, golf courses, private schools, day care centers, health clubs, sports stadiums, movie theaters, and so on. This title sets the minimum standards for accessibility for alterations and new construction of facilities. It also requires public accommodations to remove barriers in existing buildings where it is easy to do so without much difficulty or expense. This title directs businesses to make "reasonable modifications" to their usual ways of doing things when serving people with disabilities. It also requires that they take steps necessary to communicate effectively with customers with vision, hearing, and speech disabilities. This title is regulated and enforced by the U.S. Department of Justice.
Part of Title I was found unconstitutional by the United States Supreme Court as it pertains to states in the case of Board of Trustees of the University of Alabama v. Garrett as violating the sovereign immunity rights of the several states as specified by the Eleventh Amendment to the United States Constitution. The Court determined that state employees cannot sue their employer for violating ADA rules. State employees can, however, file complaints at the Department of Justice or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, who can sue on their behalf.
2.1 is about enhancing and optimizing your accessibility. If your website only complies with 2.0, it doesn’t mean it’s inaccessible. Most companies are completely caught off guard by accounting for access to disabled – this is what’s being litigated across the US right now – so you’re by no means behind if you haven’t integrated all of the new updates.
Develop a plan for making your existing web content accessible. Describe your plan on an accessible webpage, and encourage input on how accessibility can be improved. Let visitors to your website know about the standards or guidelines that you are using to make your website accessible. When setting timeframes for accessibility modifications to your website, make more popular webpages a priority.
Section 504 prohibits recipients of federal financial assistance from discriminating against qualified individuals with disabilities in employment and in their programs and activities. Each federal agency has its own set of Section 504 regulations that apply to its particular programs. For example, through Section 504 and the ADA, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services works to make sure that doctor's offices, clinics and medical equipment are accessible to people with disabilities. DOL's CRC enforces Section 504 for the department as it relates to recipients of financial assistance. An award-winning documentary film, "The Power of 504," documents the events that led to the signing of Section 504 into law.
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.
For most businesses, the need for ADA web compliance means they will need to make at least some adjustments to all of their online marketing strategies. For instance, if your company provides tax preparation services, all of the tax forms you provide for customers to download would need to meet accessibility standards. Any online tax preparation services that you offer would also need to be configured so they meet ADA standards, as would your mobile app.
Ensure that in-house staff and contractors responsible for webpage and content development are properly trained. Distribute the Department of Justice technical assistance document “Accessibility of State and Local Government Websites to People with Disabilities” to these in-house staff and contractors on an annual basis as a reminder. This technical assistance document is available on the ADA Home Page at www.ada.gov.
As an attorney, I always advocate what I call “legal prevention” which means that you avoid legal entanglement when at all possible. In this instance, we can reasonably argue on the merits as to whether your website needs to be ADA compliant (unless you’re a governmental entity under Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act or a recipient of federal funding under 504 – accessibility is required here).
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.