When the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was first passed in 1990, the internet had yet to take off. However, the ADA has realized the importance of including online spaces within its parameters. If your business is considered a ‘place of public accommodation,’ then your website must be ADA compliant. Multiple rulings from judges have set legal precedent that websites must be accessible and are at risk of heavy fines and penalties when they are found not compliant. Winn-Dixie is the latest business to learn this the hard way.
You can test specific themes for compliance with these guidelines using a tool such as the WAVE Web Accessibility tool. For sites that require 100% compliance, we recommend testing your theme of choice using the demo page for the theme, for example Twenty Fourteen. We also recommend using Header Text (displaying the Site Title), rather than a Header Image, as some WordPress.com themes will not provide AltText and therefore generate an error in the accessibility tool when a Header Image is set.
According to the DOJ, “Being unable to access websites puts individuals with disabilities at a great disadvantage in today’s society.” With these words in mind, the DOJ has rapidly adopted the role of web accessibility enforcer. A failure to make digital content, including websites, accessible to all individuals regardless of their emotional, physical, or mental disabilities, can result in hefty fines and class action lawsuits. In short, the DOJ is dedicated to making sure that individuals with disabilities have the same equal access to the benefits that are available online. Creating equal access is only possible if organizations a) understand the requirements of web accessibility, b) know that web accessibility is an obligation under the ADA, and c) make web accessibility a priority. The value that awaits when organizations adhere to digital accessibility laws can be measured in more than dollars and cents.
The guidelines are broken down by four main principles: perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust. Under each principle, there are guidelines that provide specific goals a website should work toward. Under each guideline, there are testable success criteria. Those criteria are graded A, AA, or AAA. This grade shows the level of conformity to accessibility, AAA being the highest. The law only requires A and AA guidelines to be met.