Gray Reed & McGraw is a Texas-based, full-service law firm with over 120 lawyers in Dallas and Houston. Since 1985, our firm philosophy has been to provide high-quality legal services in a streamlined manner, to provide sophisticated and complex legal advice that is reasonably priced, and to provide big-firm results with small-firm efficiency. For 30 years, we have dedicated ourselves to achieving success for our clients, as they define success – whether that is winning a critical lawsuit, closing a key deal, consulting to save taxes, or just giving good business advice to avoid disputes.
If your website is not already ADA compliant, you are automatically missing out on millions of potential customers who cannot access your site due to their disabilities. In fact, there are nearly 50 million people with disabilities in the U.S., which means about 19 percent of this country has a disability. Many of them might be interested in your products or services, but once they arrive at your website, they won't be able to navigate easily enough to buy anything or even contact you, all because your website is only accessible to people without disabilities. Thus, they may move on to your competitors.
The need to make websites, mobile apps, and other online properties accessible to all is only going to increase as time moves on. Smart business owners will do well to get in front of this issue and make sure that their websites are ADA compliant now so that all their customers have the equal access to the resources they offer. Not just because they want to avoid a lawsuit or government action, but because it’s the right thing to do.
The large number of people who have disabilities, coupled with the challenges that they face, is one of the reasons that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed in 1990.² As its name suggests, the ADA is designed to protect individuals with disabilities in the United States. The ADA essentially makes it illegal for any government entity or business to provide goods and services to the general public without ensuring that the entities are accessible by people with disabilities. In today’s digitally driven world, many businesses fail to follow web accessibility best practices. In fact, this is why the Supplemental Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (SANPRM) was created by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). To ensure that they are implementing digital accessibility best practices, organizations are encouraged to use the WCAG 2.1 technical requirements.³
You are correct, ADA defines an “employer” as any person who is 1) engaged in an industry affecting commerce; 2) employes 15 or more full-time employees each work day; and 3) for at least 20 or more calendar weeks in the year. In the context of physical spaces, ADA would not apply to companies with fewer than 15 employees. However, courts don’t seem to have come to a consensus on what digital compliance really should look like. Because websites can be accessed anywhere in the country, small business owners might potentially face lawsuits in unfavorable jurisdictions. If you are a small business owner, I would recommend consulting with an accessibility lawyer and ask what they recommend.
Luckily, the international nonprofit World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) brings together smart people who develop open standards to ensure the long-term growth of the Web. They produce recommendations for making websites fair and equally accessible for the highest number of people possible. Their Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 offer clear guidance for web developers to achieve ADA compliance.
Various courts around America have ruled that commercial websites are places of public accommodation and thus subject to ADA rules. Other cases have concluded that websites are bound by ADA regulations if there is a close “nexus” between the site and a physical location, the most famous example being the ruling against the Winn-Dixie supermarket chain for not making its site accessible to users with low vision. Other courts have decided that the ADA as written simply does not offer any protections for online users. With no overarching federal rules in place, it’s difficult to make a definitive statement about whether or not any given website is governed by ADA accessibility rules.
Thanks for writing. While I’m not a lawyer I believe if your physical practice is ADA exempt your web presence, as an extension of that physical business would maintain the same exemption status. If you’d like to be absolutely certain I’d confer with an ADA lawyer (email us, questions at yokoco dot com if you need a referral) but I don’t believe you have reason to worry.
If you return your availability by room type your our online booking engine must also display and hold accessible rooms only for people with disabilities until all other rooms have been booked. (Rule becomes effective March 15, 2012.) If you return your availability by individual units you do NOT have to hold ADA rooms back until all other units have been reserved. However, all other ADA regulations do apply (ADA room descriptions, using a booking engine that is ADA compliant, and making your website ADA accessible).
This is an article that most other website developers probably don’t want you to read. The reason is that most other web designers basically like to think of themselves as all-powerful wizards with magical powers. And they use complex technical jargon and terminology to intimidate and mystify their clients into thinking that what they do is more complex than it is.
The ADA statute identifies who is a person with a disability, who has obligations under the ADA, general non-discrimination requirements and other basic obligations. It delegates fleshing out those obligations to federal agencies. The agencies issue regulations and design standards. The regulations have the details on the rights of people with disabilities and responsibilities of employers, state and local governments, transportation providers, businesses and non-profit organizations. The design standards specify how many entrances need to be accessible, how many toilet rooms and the design for those elements. To know what the ADA requires, you need to read the law, regulations and design standards.