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Guide to ADA Website Compliance: What Your Business Needs to Know

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) became law in 1990 and requires that businesses not discriminate against employees and customers with disabilities.

While most of the regulations have to do with accessibility within a physical space (e.g., wheelchair ramps, door openers, etc.), the Act also covers access to technology, including websites and mobile devices. According to the law, your site should be as readily accessible as any other user interface: ATMs, retail kiosks, elevators and so forth.

Is your site ADA compliant and how do you know?

The bad news:

Unless you have taken concrete steps to ensure your website is compliant, most likely it’s not, and you could face legal action for failure to comply.

While guidelines about websites have yet to be determined (that’s expected in 2018), ADA lets private parties bring court claims. If they win the case, not only would you have to bring your site into compliance but could also be liable to pay compensatory damages, including court costs.

The good news:

Becoming compliant is not as difficult as it may seem.

The reason we created this guide is to make you aware of the requirements, the reasons why your business website should be compliant and the steps you can take to begin the process.

Facts about Americans with Disabilities Act Compliance

Of all the ADA’s regulations, Title I and III are the ones most applicable to business owners.

Title I includes protections for employees and job seekers with disabilities.Title III prohibits discrimination against customers with disabilities by private companies of any size, commercial facilities and other “places of public accommodations.”

Initially, that term applied to stores, restaurants, movie theaters, schools and other commercial businesses open to the general public.

However, in 2010, the Department of Justice, which enforces ADA regulations, amended the language to make it clear that compliance also includes accessibility to electronic media for individuals with disabilities.

FAQ: What constitutes website accessibility?

People with disabilities can navigate the internet using a variety of assistive technologies. Some need speech-recognition software, others a screen reader (to convert text into speech) and still others closed captioning of information contained in videos.

Many websites, however, lack the capabilities needed to enable disabled persons to readily and easily access the content using these technologies. Making a website accessible means removing such barriers and opening up admission to the site for everyone, no matter their physical limitations.

Reasons Your Business Website Should Be ADA Compliant

There are at least three reasons your business should comply with the ADA:

It’s the Law

While not every business is required to comply, ADA mandates full compliance for most, particularly those in certain industries, such as financial, educational and health care.

Regardless of the industry, it’s better to be prepared than find yourself subject to legal action. Forewarned is forearmed, as the saying goes.

FAQ: What businesses need to have an ADA compliant website?

Businesses covered by the ADA include:

  • Private employers with 15 or more employees;
  • Public entities at state and local levels;
  • Companies that operate for the benefit of the public and non-profits.

It is the Right Thing to Do

Providing full access is not only the legal thing to do but also the right thing to do. Given that 22 percent of the U.S. population suffers from some disability according to the CDC, it makes moral sense to guarantee they have equal access to the information you provide on your site.

It’s Good for Business

ADA compliance makes good business sense, too. It offers a competitive advantage that can lead to more transactions, provides a better user experience, allows the site to reach a wider audience and reduces the likelihood of litigation.

The disability-rights group Association of People Supporting Employment First says customers with disabilities and their families and friends constitute more than $3 trillion market segment. That’s no small figure by anyone’s estimation, and should factor heavily into your decision.

For all those reasons, why wouldn’t you want your website to be ADA compliant?

Steps to Make Your Website ADA Compliant

There are two essential steps you ought to take to ensure compliance:

Audit your website code

Conducting an audit of your website’s code (the “under the hood” code used by web browsers) is an ideal way to ensure your site is compliant… or not, as the case may be.

Some of the requirements are:

  • Image, video and audio files have an “alt tag” (i.e., a description of the purpose of the file; it’s part of the HTML code)
  • Any non-text content offers text alternatives;
  • Documents in PDF, PowerPoint and other file formats are available to assistive technologies;
  • Form fields are clearly labeled and include any special instructions required by assistive technologies;
  • All functionality is accessible from a keyboard if needed (as opposed to a cursor);
  • The site is not designed in a way known to cause seizures;
  • It includes ways to help users navigate, find content and determine where they are.

This is by no means an exhaustive list but only a representative sample. Visit Section508.gov to see the complete list.

(Section 508 is an amendment to the United States Workforce Rehabilitation Act of 1973 that mandates all electronic and information technology used by the federal government be accessible to people with disabilities.)

It’s also worth noting that not every disabled person — those with visual or auditory impairment, for example — uses browsers like Google Chrome. Instead, many employ text readers and audio scanners, tools that need special instructions to convey the information on the website to the user.

Determine what it will take to become compliant

You can use the audit to determine what steps you will need to take to become fully compliant. If nothing else, you will know what’s involved and can make plans to address it in the future. Implementing a plan to ensure compliance is the best way to protect your company from web-accessibility lawsuits and demands.

Up to now, the Department of Justice, which enforces ADA regulations, has yet to issue binding rules or regulations on what ADA compliance means for websites; those are expected sometime in 2018.

However, the DOJ and plaintiffs have suggested that sites can be made ADA compliant by following the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG-2.0), a standard that defines how to make web content more accessible to people with disabilities.

Other Steps You Can Take              

According to The National Law Review, a site that provides legal information to businesses, other steps your company can take include:

  • Designating an employee or outside resource to manage web accessibility testing, repairing, implementing, maintaining and reporting for a Section 508 and WCAG 2.0 compliant website within a reasonable period;
  • Creating, adopting and maintaining a web accessibility policy consistent with prevailing standards;
  • Conducting monthly independent third-party automated and disabled end-user testing of the website;
  • Implementing any other related policy, technology and programming, monitoring and training measures as they are identified and needed.

Conclusion

Now that you understand ADA compliance includes electronic media, the reasons you should make your site accessible to everyone and how to go about it, isn’t it time to consider taking the appropriate steps to begin?

You will comply with the law, help people with disabilities gain access to your information, increase the opportunity to grow your business and protect yourself and your company against possible litigation. It is, indeed, a win-win scenario for all concerned.

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