In recent cases, the U.S. Department of Justice has repeatedly sided with plaintiffs arguing that a private company’s website needs to be accessible, despite any other mitigating factors. One thing is for certain, however: The number of federal lawsuits alleging violations of the ADA is currently accelerating at a rapid pace. Between January and August 2017, there were 432 ADA lawsuits filed in federal court—more than the total number of ADA lawsuits in 2015 and 2016 combined.
Automated compliance checkers may, however, flag some accessibility barriers that don’t actually exist (false positives). Or they may flag barriers as “potential barriers” or “likely barriers” without stating definitively whether or not they are indeed barriers. That’s not too helpful for the accessibility novice. A person with expertise in digital barriers would be needed to determine whether these are actual barriers or not.
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.
The need to make websites, mobile apps, and other online properties accessible to all is only going to increase as time moves on. Smart business owners will do well to get in front of this issue and make sure that their websites are ADA compliant now so that all their customers have the equal access to the resources they offer. Not just because they want to avoid a lawsuit or government action, but because it’s the right thing to do.
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.
The DOJ is currently working to release new technical standards for digital accessibility. The latter updates to the ADA guidelines will be in conjunction with the latest version of WCAG 2.1, which includes the most widely accepted digital accessibility requirements across the globe. If organizations want to overcome the current limitations of ADA guidelines, then they should follow the WCAG 2.1 checklist,11 as well as the suggestions provided by the ADA. The latter two steps, combined with the help of a trusted digital accessibility compliance platform,12 can help organizations achieve digital accessibility best in class standards throughout all of their digital formats and across all media.
If you’re specifically checking website compliance with the ADA, the best tool to use would be one that tests for the technical requirements of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 Level A and AA.7 These are widely accepted as the most comprehensive and complete accessibility requirements for digital technology such as websites and electronic documents. WCAG 2.0has even been published as an international standard by the International Organization for Standardization, and is written into anti-discrimination laws and policies in many jurisdictions and countries.
Accessibility Checklist, provided through Elsevier, offers a free and easy way to review the most recent and relevant web accessibility guidelines. The checklist was released on March 20, 2015 and covers guidelines WCAG 2.0—W3C Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0, Section 508 and U.S. federal procurement standards. The checklist gives a simplified language framework, and the user interface is easy to navigate. Users can filter the guidelines by topic, and these topics include keyboard, images and forms. Another filter option includes filtering by standard levels, including A, AA, or AAA.
Accessibility Checker, created by CKSource, is a software program that allows you to inspect the accessibility level of content that is created in CKEditor. The software was released on March 20, 2015, and is known as an innovative solution for web accessibility. When accessibility issues are spotted, the product allows you to solve those issues immediately as they are found. The product is user-friendly in that it assists by providing users with step-by-step accessibility evaluation guidance. The product comes in both English and Dutch versions, and the supported formats are CSS, HTML, and XHTML. The Guidelines include WCAG 2.0 – W3C Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0, WCAG 1.0 – W3C Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 1.0, Section 508, and U.S. federal procurement standard. You can test the product out in a trial or demo format, and once a purchase is made, the license can be both commercial and enterprise.
Many government services and activities are also provided on websites because the public is able to participate in them at any time of day and without the assistance of government personnel. Many government websites offer a low cost, quick, and convenient way of filing tax returns, paying bills, renewing licenses, signing up for programs, applying for permits or funding, submitting job applications, and performing a wide variety of other activities.
More than 1 billion people live with disabilities; over 57 million reside in the United States, many of whom are unable to participate in everyday activities, such as using computers, mobile phones, tablets, and similar technologies. Devices that should help to improve quality of life for disabled individuals often become a source of frustration due to the inaccessibility of websites. By making your website ADA compliant, you will gain a new and loyal revenue source, and minimize the possibility of legal action against your company.
Because they only read text, screen readers and refreshable Braille displays cannot interpret photographs, charts, color-coded information, or other graphic elements on a webpage. For this reason, a photograph of a mayor on a city’s website is inaccessible to people who use these assistive technologies, and a blind person visiting the website would be unable to tell if the image is a photo, a logo, a map, a chart, artwork, a link to another page, or even a blank page.
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.
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.
WCAG 2.0 is not currently mentioned within the Americans with Disabilities Act itself (although that may change), but in decisions and agreements, the Department of Justice routinely holds up WCAG 2.0 Level AA as the technical requirements for digital accessibility that should be followed. Organizations are encouraged to refer to WCAG 2.0 Level A and AA when striving for ADA website compliance.
Web accessibility means opening accessibility of the Web to everyone, specifically those who have disabilities, allowing them to perceive, understand, navigate and interact with the Web. These disabilities cover all levels, including auditory, physical, speech, cognitive and neurological. Most Websites have some sort of accessibility barrier that makes it difficult for a person with a disability to use their site. Web accessibility assists making sure that people with all disabilities do not face these roadblocks when accessing the Web.
Furthermore, website compliance checkers cannot possibly identify every single barrier on a website that is in violation of the ADA. Some accessibility problems can only be found with thorough manual testing. Others can only be discovered through functional testing – people who have disabilities and/or use assistive technologies such as screen readers that systematically try out core website functions, such as filling out forms. If these kinds of testing aren’t carried out, it is likely that very significant barriers could go unnoticed, and the website would still not be compliant with the ADA.
Total Validator is a validation program that comes with more than just one tool to evaluate web accessibility. In fact, the program is a 5-in-1 validation tool, including HTML and XHTML validator, an Accessibility validator, a CSS validator, a broken links checker, and, of course, a spell checker. The guidelines covered are WCAG 2.0—W3C Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0, WCAG 1.0—W3C Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 1.0, Section 508, and the U.S. federal procurement standards.
In response to the members’ concern about the proliferation of website litigation lawsuits, DOJ said: “Given Congress’ ability to provide greater clarity through the legislative process, we look forward to working with you to continue these efforts.” DOJ is essentially putting the ball back in the Congressional court, where little is likely to happen.