The Americans with Disabilities Act was signed into law all the way back in 1990 by President George H.W. Bush. Enacted to protect individuals with disabilities from discrimination, it introduced rules and regulations requiring all businesses to be accessible to those with disabilities.
This comprehensive civil rights legislation is the reason why disabled parking requirements, wheelchair ramp mandates, and other requirements are included in building codes. All businesses are legally required to remove “access barriers” hindering accessibility for disabled persons.
For the longest time, these “access barriers” were understood to be physical ones. For example, the lack of a wheel chair ramp or elevator would hinder customers in wheelchairs from accessing a business. The lack of braille on signs makes a business inaccessible to visually impaired individuals. Relatively recent changes to the law have significantly expanded its reach.
Do Websites Have to Be ADA Compliant?
The short answer is yes. In 2010, the U.S. Department of Justice amended the language of Title III of the ADA to apply to website accessibility. The DOJ was expected to release clarifications on the Title III amendment in 2016, and then in 2018.1 Those clarifications have yet to be released.
As a result, an onslaught of ADA compliance lawsuits and web accessibility lawsuits have been filed against businesses including many high-profile ones – Hulu, Winn-Dixie, and Harvard to name just a few.2
Brought forth by deaf and blind plaintiffs (as well as a few opportunistic lawyers), these lawsuits claim that those businesses’ websites failed to comply with required accessibility standards set forth by the ADA. This means navigating the business’ website was difficult or impossible for them to do successfully.
What Does ADA Compliance Mean for Websites?
For a website to be ADA compliant, it must be accessible to visually impaired or hearing-impaired individuals on their desktops, laptops, phones, and other mobile devices. When designing or updating your site, understand that not all visitors will use a standard browser like Google Chrome or Internet Explorer.
Users with disabilities may use screen readers, audio scanners, or other ADA devices when accessing your website. You and your web development team must make sure those devices are able to easily read and navigate your site.
First Steps Towards ADA Compliance for Your Website
- Add alt tags for all images, videos, and audio files: Alt tags describe components of your site and the purposes they serve. Alt tags are picked up by screen readers and audio scanners allowing users with disabilities to read or hear alternative descriptions of your site’s content.
- Create text transcripts for video and audio content: These transcripts allow deaf and hearing-impaired users to understand content previously inaccessible to them.
- Identify the website’s language in header code: Including this specific code helps text readers easily identify what language the site should be read in. This ensures the site is accessible to blind and visually impaired users.
There are numerous other steps you can take to ensure your website is ADA compliant and safeguarded from potential lawsuits. Depending on the size and complexity of your site, you may want to consult with a disability lawyer as well as run an ADA compliance website audit to identify accessibility issues.
There are a few free tools available to help you run an ADA compliance audit:
- WAVE: Web Accessibility Evaluation Tool
- IDI Web Accessibility Checker
- ADA Toolkit: Website Accessibility Under Title II of the ADA
Since the DOJ has yet to make the much-awaited clarifications and final ruling on Title III of the ADA, there are currently no official set of standards for website accessibility for private businesses.3
Instead, multiple courts have pointed businesses to the World Wide Web Consortium’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0 and 2.1).4 Website developers and SEO professionals will typically use these standards when improving a site’s ADA compliance.
Find out how our Fort Lauderdale SEO and digital marketing agency can help you make your website more accessible to those with disabilities, contact our team at Tandem Interactive or call 954.281.9995 today!
- Elizabeth Alt, Forbes – An ‘Onslaught’ Of Lawsuits From The Blind Is Happening; Blame Obama’s and Trump’s DOJ
- Hugo Martin, Los Angles Times – Lawsuits targeting business websites over ADA violations are on the rise
- Hunton Andrews Kurth LLP, Lexology – The Muddy Waters of ADA Website Compliance May Become Less Murky in 2019
- Web Accessibility Initiative – Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) Overview
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