In 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was ruled out as a civil rights law that prohibits any discrimination against disabled individuals in many areas of life, including employment, public accommodation, transportation, communications, and access to all state and local government programs/services.
Aside from individuals, this federal law has been pushing businesses towards setting new standards with accessibility and its effect on customer reach. Even though the ADA regulations have been here since 1990, the regulations have been revised a couple of times. In January 2010, the federal government applied major revisions to the law.
The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) And Its Rules On Website Accessibility
As we said above, the latest revision of the ADA act was published in 2010, when the ADA standards protecting and assisting people with disabilities were changed.
Every organization that is looking to apply accessibility guidelines to its public platforms should be following the new standards and improve the customer experience. The Department of Justice is charged with rulemaking to provide clear requirements for compliance with these laws.
Under Title III of the ADA, if people with disabilities can use a website, it is discriminatory for them to have barriers in place that prevent them from using the technology. Section 508 of the law is focused on website accessibility, stating that “all website content needs to be accessible to people with disabilities.”
The Current Barriers (And How To Remove Them)
Nowadays, there are plenty of ADA accessibility tools that allow people with disabilities to interact with websites. However, even these tools are sometimes not enough – for instance, screen readers can sometimes get confused when reading a webpage that uses images with text for section headers, as well as other unoptimized elements.
Another common struggle for screen readers is digital documents such as PDFs which do not meet the accessibility standards, even though the ADA accessibility guidelines are designed for the accessibility of every form of digital content, from websites to applications and documents.
The best way to make the digital world more accessible is by following the ADA standards directly from the resources. The 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design and Guidance on the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design are both vital resources that teach people how to make websites easier to use for people with disabilities.
In this manner, some of the common barriers in today’s accessibility standards include the following:
- No page headings
- Poor keyboard access
- Poor color contrast
- Non-descriptive hyperlinks
- Inconsistent text resizing
In times when more than two-thirds of people with disabilities suffer from invisible disabilities like color blindness, websites that are not designed in line with the ADA requirements prevent many users from accessing them.
The best way for these standards to be revised is if website stakeholders turn to the ADA guidelines for best practices, as well as the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) and its Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.1) for guidance on meeting them. Doing that will help them present information more clearly and understand how people with disabilities interact with websites using assistive technologies.
How To Know If Your Website Is ADA Compliant
If you think that your website is in line with the latest ADA guidelines and meets the ADA accessibility requirements, you should check the 508 compliance testing form, which is the best way to see whether that information is correct.
There are four main principles of ADA issued by the WCAG which include:
- Understandability, and
Each website needs to be designed with these compliance standards in order to be ADA compliant website.
People with disabilities are part of a large and often underestimated global marketplace. According to research, working-age Americans with disabilities earn more than $490 billion per year, which again proves that they are a population worth serving.
Web Accessibility Is For Everyone
Everyone deserves the right to access a website or any other form of digital content. That is why online ADA accessibility benefits all. General website elements like menu search buttons, site headers, and other elements are there to improve the content structure and make it easy for users to navigate throughout the website.
If optimized well, these elements can improve your on-page SEO. With video captions, people who can’t turn on the sound can access and understand all video content. Audio transcripts can help visually impaired users understand what the videos are about, or even skim or search the text.
Placing large buttons as part of your website design can also help users be touch-compliant and make it easy for them to access information from different devices of all sizes.
On a wide scale, the practice of optimizing your website for ADA accessibility is a practice that attracts new and existing customers. Research has proven that a website that includes accessible content has a wider audience reach compared to any inaccessible one.
What If You Decide To Ignore The ADA Guidelines?
If you wish to ignore the ADA site requirements and want to go online without meeting them, you are potentially missing out on the ability to connect with more users. You will also potentially risk having your site rank high in the search results and could face legal expenses and bad publicity.
The W3C has provided a list of accessibility-related financial benefits that you could lose. In 2021, websites that don’t meet ADA guidelines are missing out on brand enhancement, extended market reach, and innovation which could increase their legal risk.
Additionally, people with disabilities can follow the path of filing non-compliance lawsuits against websites like these. The number of ADA lawsuits has risen over the past few years.
What Can You Do Now?
If you are not sure whether your website is accessible and in line with all the federal rules and regulations, there is always more to do. Some of the things we recommend include:
- Checking your website accessibility design with an online tool
- Running accessibility audits with specific accessibility software
- Doing a detailed search on the best general practices to optimize your website for ADA compliance
- Looking into an accessibility management platform
- Make accessibility training one of the online design criteria for your website in 2021
In the end, meeting the ADA requirements can help you avoid negative consequences but also put you in line with federal rules and regulations. If you want to create a stronger business with a website that provides clear information everyone can use and navigate through, there is no reason to avoid making your content more accessible.
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The ADA prohibits any private businesses that provide goods or services to the public, referred to as “public accommodations,” from discriminating against those with disabilities. Federal courts have ruled that the ADA includes websites in the definition of public accommodation. As such, websites must offer auxiliary aids and services to low-vision, hearing-impaired, and physically disabled persons, in the same way a business facility must offer wheelchair ramps, braille signage, and sign language interpreters, among other forms of assistance.
All websites must be properly coded for use by electronic screen readers that read aloud to sight-impaired users the visual elements of a webpage. Additionally, all live and pre-recorded audio content must have synchronous captioning for hearing-impaired users.
Websites must accommodate hundreds of keyboard combinations, such as Ctrl + P to print, that people with disabilities depend on to navigate the Internet.
Litigation continues to increase substantially. All business and governmental entities are potential targets for lawsuits and demand letters. Recent actions by the Department of Justice targeting businesses with inaccessible websites will likely create a dramatic increase of litigation risk.
Big box retailer Target Corp. was ordered to pay $6 million – plus $3.7 million more in legal costs – to settle a landmark class action suit brought by the National Federation of the Blind. Other recent defendants in these cases have included McDonald’s, Carnival Cruise Lines, Netflix, Harvard University, Foot Locker, and the National Basketball Association (NBA). Along with these large companies, thousands of small businesses have been subject to ADA website litigation.
Defendants in ADA lawsuits typically pay plaintiff's legal fees, their own legal fees for defending the litigation, and potential additional costs. In all, the average cost can range from tens of thousands of dollars, to above six figures. There are also high intangible costs, such as added stress, time and human capital, as well as reputational damage. Furthermore, if the remediation is incomplete, copycat suits and serial filers can follow, meaning double or triple the outlay. It's vital to implement a long-term strategy for ensuring your website is accessible and legally compliant.