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What Does ADA Compliance Mean for a Business Website?

by | July 16, 2021

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A blind person uses a computer with a braille display assistive device meant for persons with visual disabilities.
When you think of ADA compliance, what typically comes to mind? Accessibility requirements for brick-and-mortar public buildings, right? But what about websites?

A quick history lesson first: the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 is a civil rights law prohibiting discrimination based on disabilities. It imposes accessibility standards on places of public accommodation, which websites fall under, to guarantee equal access for people with disabilities.

If you manage a federal or state agency website, your website must be ADA compliant. But it’s a slightly different story for business websites.

Not all business websites fall under ADA guidelines mandating accessibility. However, it’s still the best practice to have an ADA-compliant website. Ensuring your website and web content are digitally accessible will save you the headache of receiving an ADA Website Compliance demand letter or lawsuit.

Not sure if your business’ website is ADA-compliant? Contact our User Experience team for an ADA website audit. We have the tools to make your website accessible.

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What websites are mandated to be ADA compliant?

Technically speaking, accessibility requirements only extend to websites that affect interstate commerce and generally fall into 12 different categories:

  • An inn, hotel, motel, or other places of lodging.
  • A restaurant, bar, or other establishment serving food or drink.
  • A motion picture house, theater, concert hall, stadium, or other places of exhibition entertainment.
  • An auditorium, convention center, lecture hall, or other places of public gathering.
  • A bakery, grocery store, clothing store, hardware store, shopping center, or other sales or rental establishment.
  • A laundromat, dry-cleaner, bank, barbershop, beauty shop, travel service, shoe repair service, funeral parlor, gas station, office of an accountant or lawyer, pharmacy, insurance office, professional office of a healthcare provider, hospital, or other service establishments.
  • A terminal, depot, or other station used for specified public transportation.
  • A museum, library, gallery, or other places of public display or collection.
  • A park, zoo, amusement park, or other places of recreation.
  • A nurse, elementary, secondary, undergraduate, or postgraduate private school, or other educational places.
  • A daycare center, senior citizen center, homeless shelter, food bank, adoption agency, or other social service center establishment.
  • A gymnasium, health spa, bowling alley, golf course, or other places of exercise or recreation.

However, as your goal is to avoid a long, drawn-out, and technical legal battle, it’s best to make your website accessible from the very beginning.

The more commercial your website is, the more likely you are to be sued.

The exact phrasing used in Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act states: “the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations of any place of public accommodation.”

Why focus on website accessibility?

There isn’t a definitive federal law on the books addressing commercial web accessibility, requiring U.S. courts and the Department of Justice to step in and expand the meaning of Title III (public accommodations) to include websites.

Attorneys representing plaintiffs seeking equal web accessibility may target your website because it’s simply on the web. These law firms specifically seek a business page that does not conform to the ADA standards known as the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 or 2.1 Level AA success criteria.

Common tactics used by law firms:

  • Pick a consumer-facing industry
  • Pull a list of all the companies within that industry
  • Run a web crawler on the homepage of each company
  • Send out a form demand letter with a summary of the web crawler findings
  • File a batch of lawsuits

Legal precedents used by plaintiffs:

  • The ADA is a liability law, meaning there is no room for excuses/defenses for violations.
  • The Unruh Civil Rights Act, a California law similar to the ADA, is often cited in attorney demand letters as it offers more damages to plaintiffs.
  • Legal groups use the Fair Housing Act and other anti-discrimination laws to sue website owners and target specific industries.
  • Employing fewer than 15 people does not exempt you from ADA compliance as a place of public accommodation.

How does the Department of Justice define accessibility?

The Department of Justice uses WCAG 2.0 and WCAG 2.1 to define digital accessibility but has not specified technical requirements in a final rule, so you have some flexibility in the matter.

The law does not mandate WCAG compliance for business websites (although California AB 434 requires all state departments to provide equal access). WCAG is a list of guidelines published by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) under their Web Accessibility Initiative.

The W3C publishes best practices to make the internet more uniform and run better, including the standardization of accessibility.

There are two versions of WCAG: WCAG 2.0 AA and WCAG 2.1 AA. The difference comes down to the number of success criteria, amounting to 38 for the former and 50 for the latter.

In another blog, we explain in-depth what the digital accessibility requirements entail.

Our certified web designers know how to make your organization’s website meet WCAG success criteria.

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How Do People with Disabilities Use a Website?

Limitations related to sensory, physical, or cognitive functioning can affect how users interact with websites. Disabilities can be injury- or age-related conditions.

People with disabilities use assistive technologies to browse the internet, which pages should be coded to interact with seamlessly.

Some assistive technologies rely on the output of graphical desktop browsers, text browsers, voice browsers, multimedia players, and plug-ins to relay a website’s information to users.

A well-known assistive technology is screen reader software, which interprets what is displayed on screen to a speech synthesizer.

Other assistive technology includes:

  • Alternative keyboards or switches
  • Braille & Refreshable Braille
  • Screen magnifiers
  • Sound notification
  • Scanning software
  • Voice recognition

CTS Web Developers Pursue Certification in Section 508

At Capitol Tech Solutions, we enroll our web developers in accessibility training to better serve our clients. Che-Hung Liu, a graphic designer and web developer who’s been with the company since 2016, has completed several courses offered by the GSA Government-wide IT Accessibility Program.

If you choose to partner with CTS, Che will use industry-leading techniques from his Section 508 accessibility courses to bring your website into compliance, either in the private or public sectors.

Section 508 is the federal law requiring government agencies to make their websites accessible to people with disabilities.

Improve your users’ experience. We’ll test and make suitable accommodations on your website for ADA compliance.

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Contact Our Team

Don’t know where to start or can’t find the local talent you need to launch your new digital endeavor? Let our team of experienced professionals help you map out your next project or fix an existing one.

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