For close to seven years, since July of 2010, the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) has talked about issuing regulations specifically about web accessibility. At that time the US Department of Justice (DOJ) began developing accessibility guidelines for public websites under Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). On December 26, 2017, the Department announced that those regulations were officially withdrawn.
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On July 26, 2010 (on the anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act) President Obama stated that ADA accessibility must also apply to the Internet. With that declaration, the Justice Department was tasked with setting rules for ADA accessibility for the Internet and websites. Since that time, the Justice Department has formulated recommended rules for ADA website accessibility. Those rules will soon be refined and officially released in the near future. Until then, there is a set of guidelines currently in place (http://www.w3.org/WAI/WCAG20/quickref) for websites to become ADA accessible. Even with these guidelines in place, many hospitality businesses have not yet complied with the guidelines. Now is the time to begin the process of making your current website ADA accessible or to consider a new website design that is ADA accessible.
I should mention one caveat to all of this. Businesses that are required to comply but don't have the ability to bring their websites into compliance can provide an accessible alternative to provide the same information, goods, and services that they provide online, like a staffed phone line. The trick, however, is that this option has to provide at least equal access, including in terms of hours of operation. And, as we know, the internet is around 24/7, so good luck with that.
Web designers often design in such a way that does not allow the user to adjust font size or color. While they may be protecting their brand, they are also inhibiting some users. Many visually impaired need to use high contrast color settings or very large fonts to read a website. Don't design your website in a way that makes it impossible for them to do this.
And once those new customers tell their friends and relatives how they found your website, more people will know you made sure to make it ADA compliant. The fact that you put this effort into ensuring everyone was included will set you apart from your competitors. Therefore, making your site ADA compliant is a great way to get some positive press for your business.
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.”
The ADA guidelines are often updated so that businesses can better understand how various disabilities can affect the way that people will interact with websites and digital content. The guidelines also explain why certain barriers can prevent disabled individuals from using or even accessing a website. With these goals in mind, it is important to note that organizations need to review the guidelines on a yearly basis. New technologies, such as Artificial Intelligence10, are being used to help people with disabilities get the most out of the digital world. If organizations fail to read the latest ADA guidelines, then they will soon discover that their approach to web accessibility is outdated, and they might be in violation of digital accessibility laws.
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.
Yes, in time non-ADA compliant websites will be penalized in the search engines. It's already on their radar. But for now they are still negatively affected, just in an indirect way. Live traffic behavior (user experience) is now factored into Google's algorithm and is a ranking signal. Negative user interactions absolutely have negative affects on rankings.
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.