Website ADA compliance: What it is, how it works and why you need to do it

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The United States’ Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is one of the most confusing and complicated legislative directives regarding website accessibility.

In this article, we will provide you with detailed information on what the ADA legislation is for you to have basic knowledge on it  and why your website should be ADA compliant.

What is Website Ada Compliance?

In 1990, towards stifling discrimination against those with disabilities, the Americans with Disabilities Act became law. According to Digital Authority Partners, the ADA indicates that no one should be discriminated against owing to his/her disability regarding the complete and equivalent access to and enjoyment of all services, goods, advantages, privileges, facilities, or accommodations of any location of “public accommodation”.

Based greatly on the momentous Civil Rights Act of 1964, which protect against discrimination centered on race, sex, religion or national origin, the ADA is a step further with a requirement that organizations reasonably and fairly accommodate employees with disabilities.

It disallows discrimination against anyone with disabilities in all aspects of public life. According to Hacker Noon, the ADA, at least for Title III (private sector businesses), applies only to companies that have employed 15 or more individuals. Now, with the internet becoming a space for global commerce, the ADA has been argued to in a way include websites.

How it Works?

As earlier stated, the ADA’s connection to websites has been confusing and often complicated. This is because the ADA does not directly focus on online compliance, despite the fact that there have been some amendments in the already web-oriented 2008.

With no precise coverage based on the law, it is often left to different courts to decide how ADA standards are applicable to websites, and whether they even apply at all.

Title III of the ADA demands that every lessor, owner, or operator of a “place of public accommodation” offer equal access and opportunities to every user who meets the ADA disability standards.

With about 1.66 billion people across the globe engaging in online purchases in just 2017, one might reasonably assume that this notion encompasses websites, but from a critical legal position, there are certain areas that can be questioned.

Nevertheless, different courts across America have stated that commercial websites can be considered as a place of public accommodation, therefore, they can be subjected to the ADA guidelines.

In other cases, it is stated that websites can be subjected to ADA regulations if there is a close connection between the site and a physical location. There are certain courts that have even concluded that the ADA in its simple written form simply does not grant any form of protection for any online user. This shows that there are a lot of argument around this concept.

With no supreme federal directions in position, it is challenging to make an absolute statement about whether or not any particular website is or can be governed by the ADA rules.

Despite the aforementioned, there are certain basic principles for maintaining a WCAG and ADA compliant website. With the updated version of WCAG guidelines from version 2.0 to 2.1, there are certain changes made. The 2.1 updates include technological modifications that have happened since the previous version, and also address certain areas that were underrepresented in 2.0. However, the compliance level targeted is still WCAG 2.0 Level AA; the 2.1 success criteria are simply an addition to those existing already in 2.0.

Basically, WCAG guidelines divide accessibility issues into three levels. Level A issues are the more urgent, including problems that can greatly limit a disabled user’s ability to navigate or use the website. Level AA issues incline towards functionality, with focus on areas where improvement is required to give disabled users the complete experience of a website. (Level AA is deemed as the target standard for several commercial websites.)

The highest standard is Level AAA issues, fine-tuning and expanding on issues recognized as Level A and AA. While it is a good goal, complete Level AAA compliance tend to be beyond the grasp of most websites.

It is possible that your website might have already met many of the rules, and others will only take a web developer a short time to bring up to par. Nevertheless, there are certain items that are much more difficult to fix depending on the circumstance. Such include the following:

Your site should be completely navigable through keyboard only. This usually involves things like skip navigation buttons and can include manually setting a tab index everywhere.

Text should meet a minimum contrast ratio against the background, which can greatly affect your design.

Your site should handle text scaling up to 200% without creating any horizontal scrolling or content-breaking layout issues. This may be more challenging to fix in some quite complex designs.

Your site should be navigable with any screen reader software. This can be challenging to test and can include some grueling fixes just as what is required for keyboard navigation.

Nevertheless, don’t allow the above to discourage you as you have to ensure that your website is WCAG and ADA compliance. You may wonder why you have to; check the next section to find out.

Why You Need to do It?

Although it is not very clear how or even if ADA rules will be applicable to any specific website, it is generally good to err on the side of caution. Be cautious is a smart move. Several states have adopted their own accessibility laws, and the amount of accessibility-linked lawsuits filed against websites is increasing greatly in recent years.

In fact, ADA website compliance lawsuits are being filed crazily nowadays. In 2017 alone, there were roughly 814 documented lawsuits against companies for violating Title III of the ADA (Website Accessibility Act) that included various putative damage lawsuits. 2018 and 2019 also witnessed a fair share of lawsuits.

Plaintiffs are becoming more successful in these suits than ever before. Currently, settlements on ADA website compliance often range from $5,000 to $50,000.  With hardly any clearly stipulated regulations to follow, it is probably not worth it for any company to gamble that a court will rule in its favor.

If you ignore website accessibility, you are not only failing your civic responsibility, you are likely also missing out on getting new customers. The 2010 census reports that 19% of the US population, roughly 56.7 million people, have a form of disability or the other.

The report titled “Americans with Disabilities: 2010,” records that the percentage of people with severe disabilities is on the rise. Without doubt, people within this group have buying power and brand loyalty, therefore, it is a wise step if businesses consider them.

When you ignore the WCAG and ADA guidelines for website accessibility, there is also the risk of losing new business from government entities and conscious procurement departments in the United States. In the event that your website gets federal funding, assistance, or you have contracts with the government, it is important for your website to be accessible. Or you may risk losing such funding, assistance, and your contracts with the government may be terminated. This is definitely not a risk you would want to take.

Although the impact of the ADA on online accessibility seems to be still vague, there is no question that equal access is a thing of major concern for users in America, and for the courts serving those users.

To make up for a clear set of national guidelines, abiding by WCAG accessibility standards is still the best option for most businesses. Aside from being a smart move to prevent accessibility lawsuits and negative publicity, it is simply right to provide accessible solutions for all users.

Not sure where to start to figure out if your website is ADA compliant or not? Check out this list of consulting companies that can help you figure it out.