There’s one thing that nearly every small business owner fears: getting sued. You’ve probably heard horror stories. Lawyers targeting businesses who are not compliant with the regulations in the Americans with Disabilities Act, serving them a demand letter and getting a settlement.
They’re out there.
Until recently, these stories have taken place at a physical location. Either the wheelchair ramp leading into the entrance wasn’t up to code, or there wasn’t enough handicap parking. You name it, it’s probably been brought to court.
But now, businesses aren’t just being held accountable for their physical spaces. Websites are now considered a liability.
Here’s an overview of what you need to know:
- Beyond simply making sure your website is accessible in the general sense of the word, there is a legal side to website development that prohibits discrimination against those with disabilities.
- Recent data shows that just over 2,000 website accessibility lawsuits were filed in 2018, which was a 177% increase from the year prior. Settlements can range from $5,000 to $50,000. (The Federalist Society)
- In 2019, it was projected that over 11,000 lawsuits would be filed.
- The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Title III is what legally requires websites to be accessible to people with disabilities.
- If you read Title III of the ADA, you won’t find websites mentioned anywhere. However, in the past few years, U.S. Courts have interpreted ADA Title III to include websites as a public accommodation.
- There is no exact answer as to the requirements your website should follow, but the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 is a helpful technical guideline and is also referenced as a best practice to follow in many lawsuits.
- ADA website compliance is an ongoing process. What’s already published on your website will need to be “fixed” and as you upload new content, it will need to follow the WCAG.
What is Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act?
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was the first comprehensive federal civil rights law protecting individuals with disabilities enacted in 1990. It states that a disabled person should be able to experience the “full and equal enjoyment” of privileges, goods, services, advantages, and accommodations just as an able-bodied person.
For a really long time, this act existed with the usual scrutiny that comes along with legal interpretation. Recently, in light of an increase in lawsuits alleging website inaccessibility, the Department of Justice was formally asked by members of the Senate and Congress to clarify whether the ADA applies to websites
With a swift response, the DOJ took the stance that the ADA does apply to the websites of public accommodations. This only happened in September 2018. As you could imagine, small business owners quickly turned heads and started asking, “What do I need to do to protect my business?”
What are the Guidelines for Adhering to the ADA?
The fact is, if you have a website, you can’t do nothing. Ignoring the ADA will not make it go away. It’s crucial that you make necessary changes to your website to protect yourself from litigation.
When you first begin your journey to sprucing up your website, start by thinking in broad terms.
- What is the main reason my website exists? The primary purpose of your website will help you as you begin to follow ADA guidelines or as you hand over the work to a professional service. How effective is the purpose of my website communicated?
- Where does a user go once they get to my website? Think about the different pathways that someone might take after landing on your site. Is it a smooth ride or are there any bumps in the road? Could a person with a disability easily find their way around?
Without getting too technical, there are many different components of website development that work together to create a cohesive experience. This interaction allows the website to be accessible by everyone.
The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0) is the tool that is currently being used as a benchmark for successful website accessibility. Businesses can use this technical tool to make their website accessible to disabled individuals. In order for a website to conform to the WCAG 2.0, it must meet the criteria for all guidelines under one of three conformance levels: A, AA, or AAA. You should aim for Level AA for all guidelines.
Alt Text & Other Quick Fixes
One of the most common complaints in lawsuits regarding website ADA compliance is the absence of alt text. Also known as “alt attributes,” alt text is HTML code that is used to describe the image.
Because this flaw is easy to spot by lawyers and plaintiffs, adding alt text to all images on your site is one of the first things you can do to make sure your website is on its way to being compliant. However, it’s certainly not the only thing you should do.
In addition, some quick fixes include:
- Creating transcripts for all video
- Using closed captioning on video
- Using correct website structure and nested headings
- Presenting content in a meaningful order
- Ensuring instructions do not rely on a single sensory characteristic
- Not using color alone to convey information
- Ensuring color contrast between text and background is 4:5:1 (use this helpful resource to check your contrast)
- Allowing text to be resized by the user up to 200%
- Making your website fully usable by keyboard only (no mouse)
- Ensuring labels in form fields can be read by screen readers
- Using descriptive text for links (instead of “click here” write “find a location near you”)
This list is just the very tippy-top of the iceberg.
Even if you do your best to follow the WCAG, it can still be difficult to know for sure if you’re following ADA requirements.
Having an ADA-compliant website is a process and something we’ve been working on over the course of a year to ensure our clients are protected. For additional resources, check out some of the articles below. Or reach out to Commit Agency to ensure your business is protected.