Poorly designed websites can create unnecessary barriers for people with disabilities, just as poorly designed buildings prevent some people with disabilities from entering. Access problems often occur because website designers mistakenly assume that everyone sees and accesses a webpage in the same way. This mistaken assumption can frustrate assistive technologies and their users. Accessible website design recognizes these differences and does not require people to see, hear, or use a standard mouse in order to access the information and services provided.
Because they only read text, screen readers and refreshable Braille displays cannot interpret photographs, charts, color-coded information, or other graphic elements on a webpage. For this reason, a photograph of a mayor on a city’s website is inaccessible to people who use these assistive technologies, and a blind person visiting the website would be unable to tell if the image is a photo, a logo, a map, a chart, artwork, a link to another page, or even a blank page.
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.
The ADA is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life, including jobs, schools, transportation, and all public and private places that are open to the general public. The purpose of the law is to make sure that people with disabilities have the same rights and opportunities as everyone else. The ADA gives civil rights protections to individuals with disabilities similar to those provided to individuals on the basis of race, color, sex, national origin, age, and religion. It guarantees equal opportunity for individuals with disabilities in public accommodations, employment, transportation, state and local government services, and telecommunications.
Ensuring your website is ADA compliant takes skill and know-how. Even with drag-and-drop and state-of-the-art web builders, knowing how to put together content, add alt-tags and compliant contrasting colors just to name a few thing, it takes someone familiar with coding, UI/UX techniques and the best practices advised by the W3C (World Wide Web Consortium) to ensure that your site meets at minimum the A Level of Conformance. Here is the W3C’s complete and exhaustive list of technical conformance guidelines.
UPDATE: Since writing this post in August 2017, several important changes have taken place in the laws regarding ADA compliance for websites. On December 26, 2017, the Department of Justice announced that they have withdrawn the Obama-era Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking mentioned in this article which intended to require ADA website compliance. The DOJ’s withdrawal announcement stated, “The Department will continue to assess whether specific technical standards are necessary and appropriate to assist covered entities with complying with the ADA.”
It makes sense that everyone should have equal access to websites and online properties. The Internet has become an integral part of our lives, where we go to shop, learn, do our banking, and socialize. The DOJ hasn’t determined what the final set of regulations for ADA compliant websites will be yet, but there are established guidelines and standards of accessibility that can be viewed on the ADA website. Once a website meets these accessibility standards it qualifies as ADA compliant.
The best resource to find out this information is to ask other local business owners in the area who they hired to create their website, and the total cost involved. If you find yourself loving a specific website that isn’t local, reach out to the owner and ask if they would mind sharing the contact information of their designer. They will appreciate the compliment, and most likely would share that information.
Courts have essentially taken three positions when approached with this issue. Some courts take the position that the ADA applies to all commercial sites because the law was meant to protect disabled individuals from having a more difficult time than able-bodied individuals from doing business. That is why the website Scribd was unable to get a case summarily dismissed and ended up settling.