Blind people, those with low vision, and people with other disabilities that affect their ability to read a computer display often use different technologies so they can access the information displayed on a webpage. Two commonly used technologies are screen readers and refreshable Braille displays. As discussed above, a screen reader is a computer program that speaks the text that appears on the computer display, beginning in the top-left corner. A refreshable Braille display is an electronic device that translates text into Braille characters that can be read by touch. These assistive technologies read text. They cannot translate images into speech or Braille, even if words appear in the images. For example, these technologies cannot interpret a photograph of a stop sign, even if the word “stop” appears in the image.
The landscape of disabled access litigation related to online services has significantly changed and expanded over the past decade. Initially, the internet was an area of little concern as courts uniformly held that the ADA applied to "brick and mortar" facilities, not to cyberspace. This has changed and online accessibility is presently, and will continue to be, an area of significant investigation and litigation.
Technology is changing, and many website designers are using creative and innovative ways to present web-based materials. These changes may involve new and different access problems and solutions for people with disabilities. This Chapter discusses just a few of the most common ways in which websites can pose barriers to access for people with disabilities. By using the resources listed at the end of this Chapter, you can learn to identify and address other barriers.
People with disabilities that affect their sight, hearing, or mobility may have difficulty accessing certain parts of websites and other online properties unless certain accommodations are made. Just as businesses may need to make adjustments to their physical location so that disabled customers have easy access to the premises, companies may need to adjust certain aspects of their websites so individuals with disabilities can take full advantage of all the features and services.
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.
“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.”
A few of these accessible features are provided in a checklist in the DOJ publication, “ADA Best Practices Tool Kit State and Local Governments.”5 One example in the list is written captions for online audio files, so that people who cannot hear the audio can understand what is being said. Another example is descriptive text (known as “alt text”) for all image files, so people with vision disabilities who are using screen readers can understand what’s in the images.
If posted on an accessible website, tax forms need to be available to people with disabilities in an accessible format on the same terms that they are available to other members of the public – 24 hours a day, seven days a week, without cost, inconvenience, or delay. A staffed telephone line that sent copies of tax forms to callers through the mail would not provide equal access to people with disabilities because of the delay involved in mailing the forms.
Furthermore, if your organization has developed a mobile app – as many companies have – to make it easier for customers to interact with your brand, then this, too, must be free of barriers in order to comply with the ADA. Online grocery delivery service Peapod and tax preparer H&R Block are two examples of companies that agreed, after ADA complaints were launched, to improve the accessibility of their mobile apps.
Website barriers weren’t on anyone’s radar when the ADA came into force in 1990. At that time, the Internet wasn’t an integral part of our day-to-day lives. Since then, however, the Department of Justice (DOJ) has made it clear that websites are nevertheless covered by this law. For instance, it has written: “Increasingly, private entities of all types are providing goods and services to the public through websites that operate as places of public accommodation under title III of the ADA. Many websites of public accommodations, however, render use by individuals with disabilities difficult or impossible due to barriers posed by websites designed without accessible features.”4
In fact, there are more ADA lawsuits brought against website owners now than ever before. WellPoint, HCA Holdings, Tenet Healthcare, and CAC Florida Medical Centers are just but a few classic examples of healthcare organizations that have faced the wrath of ADA lawsuits in the recent past. You could be facing fines of up to $75,000 for your first ADA web accessibility offense alone.
Permanent injunction requiring a change in corporate polices to cause Defendant’s website to become, and remain, accessible Noted was that “The ADA expressly contemplates the type of injunctive relief that the Plaintiffs seek in this action.” The Plaintiff’s lawyers stated that “Because Defendant’s Website has never been accessible and because Defendant does not have, and has never had, a corporate policy that is reasonably calculated to cause its Website to become and remain accessible”. Therefor the Court should require that the Plaintiff accept who the Defendant will use to “assist it in improving the accessibility of its Website”, “ensure that all employees involved in website development and content development be given training”, “Consultant to perform an automated accessibility audit on a periodic basis to evaluate if the Defendant’s Website continues to comply”, “Consultant to perform end-user accessibility/usability testing on a periodic basis”, “Consultant to create an accessibility policy”. Although the Lawyers asked the Court for the above, and it would be extremely time consuming and expensive for the Defendant, the very last part of the Complaint was what the Lawyers were after. Here is what the Lawyers asked the Court for:
Cynthia Says is a program offered through HiSoftware that helps users identify the web accessibility compliance errors in their site, allowing them to test their individual pages on their site through the Cynthia Says portal and providing feedback in a format that is easy to understand for even the least tech savvy users. The portal is part of a joint education and outreach of Cryptzone, ICDRI, and the Internet Society Disability and Special Needs Chapter, educating users in the concepts behind web site accessibility.
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."
Aloha Tatiana! I wish your questions had straightforward easy answers – and if you are government funded it kind of is. (See here: https://www.ada.gov/websites2_prnt.pdf) if you are not government funded, this is something that is currently being debated in the legal system. That being said, the WCAG 2.0 guidelines are a good set of guidelines to help protect yourself if you feel you should. (You can see more on WCAG here: https://www.yokoco.com/find-out-how-to-make-your-website-compliant/)
Through the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), our nation committed itself to eliminating discrimination against people with disabilities. The U.S. Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Civil Rights Division is proud to play a critical role in enforcing the ADA, working towards a future in which all the doors are open to equality of opportunity, full participation, independent living, integration and economic self-sufficiency for persons with disabilities.
Developed by the University of the Basque Country in Spain, EvalAccess is one of the few tools that lets you evaluate an entire website for WCAG 1.0 compliance. It displays the results in an easy-to-read report, whilst describing each error detected. Whilst it may not be the most user friendly access tool, it can be sufficient to help most designers and developers clean up their sites.
Tenon is a web accessibility testing tool that is known for giving flexibility for designers when evaluating a site’s accessibility. Tenon is specifically aimed at delivering flexibility in tooling for developers, designers, content providers, and testers. The program utilizes API, and it is this platform that easily integrates into your already existing toolset.