For most people, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) conjures up pictures of physical accommodations such as wheelchair ramps near building entrances, handicapped parking spaces, and the use of braille writing on signs and placards. These measures have been tremendously valuable in helping the 56.7 million Americans with a disability function and thrive within society.
Until the ADA is updated to address the special case of website accessibility, or the Department of Justice releases its website accessibility regulations, complying with WCAG 2.0 Level AA is the best way to ensure that people with disabilities have equal access to your website. The overview below is a great starting point about meeting the WCAG 2.0 Level AA recommendations.
A 1997 jury verdict finding that Wal-Mart had discriminated by refusing to hire an individual who used a wheelchair because of his disability. As part of its evidence, EEOC introduced a videotape showing the charging party performing many physically challenging activities during his daily life. The jury awarded $8,399 in back pay, $75,000 in compensatory damages, and $3.5 million in punitive damages (later reduced to $225,000 because of the statutory cap on punitive damages).
Many government services and activities are also provided on websites because the public is able to participate in them at any time of day and without the assistance of government personnel. Many government websites offer a low cost, quick, and convenient way of filing tax returns, paying bills, renewing licenses, signing up for programs, applying for permits or funding, submitting job applications, and performing a wide variety of other activities.
As always, litigation also became an important vehicle for the Commission to establish its policy positions on the provisions of the ADA. From the Act's effective date through July 2, 2000, the Commission has filed 375 ADA lawsuits, successfully resolving more than 91 percent of the lawsuits filed in district court either by settlement or jury verdict. The Commission also has participated as amicus curiae in 87 cases on issues arising from or connected to the ADA, the Rehabilitation Act (an act that protects federal employees and others connected with the Federal Government from workplace discrimination and which was the precursor of the ADA), or other state disability laws.
Reasonable accommodation is any change or adjustment to a job or work environment that permits a qualified applicant or employee with a disability to participate in the job application process, to perform the essential functions of a job, or to enjoy benefits and privileges of employment equal to those enjoyed by employees without disabilities. For example, reasonable accommodation may include:
Employers may not ask job applicants about the existence, nature, or severity of a disability. Applicants may be asked about their ability to perform specific job functions. A job offer may be conditioned on the results of a medical examination, but only if the examination is required for all entering employees in similar jobs. Medical examinations of employees must be job related and consistent with the employer's business needs.
Section 503 prohibits employment discrimination based on disability and requires affirmative action in the hiring, placement and advancement of people with disabilities by federal contractors or subcontractors. Contractors and subcontractors that have a contract with the Federal Government for $10,000 or more annually must take affirmative action to employ and advance in employment qualified individuals with disabilities. In addition, in 2013 OFCCP, which enforces Section 503, published a Final Rule that strengthened this aspect of the Rehabilitation Act. The new rule set a "utilization goal" for people with disabilities as 7 percent of employees in each job category or 7 percent of the total workforce. These changes were implemented to help increase the employment of people with disabilities by companies that do business with the Federal Government.
If posted on an accessible website, tax forms need to be available to people with disabilities in an accessible format on the same terms that they are available to other members of the public – 24 hours a day, seven days a week, without cost, inconvenience, or delay. A staffed telephone line that sent copies of tax forms to callers through the mail would not provide equal access to people with disabilities because of the delay involved in mailing the forms.
Under Title III, no individual may be discriminated against on the basis of disability with regards to the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, or accommodations of any place of public accommodation by any person who owns, leases, or operates a place of public accommodation. Public accommodations include most places of lodging (such as inns and hotels), recreation, transportation, education, and dining, along with stores, care providers, and places of public displays.
In 2010, the DOJ issued an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) called the Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Disability; Accessibility of Web Information and Services of State and Local Government Entities and Public Accommodations. An ANPRM is not law but a published notice in the Federal Register used by an agency to feel out its proposal and get feedback/comments before making it a rule; It’s a prudent move by federal agencies to try and get everything right before making a law.
Your site would need to have a text only option, with all functionality accessible through a keyboard for visitors with mobility issues. Once you make these and other changes to meet ADA guidelines, your site would need to be tested by a website development company familiar with ADA compliance issues to be sure that visitors who use assistive technology such as screen readers are able to access your web content fully.
Because of this, among the greatest drivers of website accessibility are usability improvements and the reputation boost that it brings—or, alternatively, the lost business that organizations want to avoid as a result of inaccessible websites. According to a survey by the National Business Disability Council at the Viscardi Center, 91 percent of customers say that they’d prefer to shop at a website that prioritizes accessibility.
In 2018 alone, there were around 1,000 lawsuits related to website accessibility. Industries affected include e-commerce stores, restaurants, consumer goods companies and more. These lawsuits even impacted major corporations such as Hershey's, Burger King and Nike, to name a few. With no slowdown in lawsuits expected, it's essential that companies comply with ADA standards to avoid costly litigation and negative press.