The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was first passed in 1990. Twenty years later, the US Department of Justice released an update called the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design. These standards cover the design of physical spaces and have been interpreted to include web locations as well, so it can be difficult for the would-be accessible website designer to use them.
People with disabilities are all around us. They live in every country and often experience life in a very different manner than those individuals who don’t have emotional, mental, or physical disabilities. In fact, 15 percent of the global population is classified as disabled. Of this 15 percent, an estimated 190 million people experience significant disabilities.¹
The 2014 case involving Peapod, an online grocery retailer emphasizes that being ADA compliant goes beyond your website. The settlement required Peapod to make its mobile applications accessible by March 2015 and its website accessible by September 2015. Since mobile apps are fast becoming the preferred method of online shopping, e-commerce sites must focus on app accessibility too.
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.
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.
While new companies might not prioritize web accessibility simply because of price, it can be seen as a great insurance policy. Even if you don’t fall into one of the categories mentioned above, if you want to prepare for the future and ensure no lawsuits, becoming web accessible is the way to go. Not to mention being available to persons with disabilities is very important and says that you care.
The gray area is a matter of scale and purpose. If you have a small business which serves as specific market it's a good idea to make the site as user and disability friendly as possible. If, however, your market serves segments with a likeliness to have various handicaps or disabilities you should address that with an ADA Compliance review of the site. Also consider the scale and purpose of an organization. Publicly traded large businesses need to concern themselves more than a single location family owned retailer and if someone sues your flower shop because the text was too small or didn't have "image alt tags" causing them distress... That's pretty frivolous and would likely not stand.
I have previous experience with a company that sold a platform to help alleviate ADA compliance issues on websites. From my understanding litigation is being brought to a few industries with it beginning to trickle down into others. Government agencies, education, banking, and law firms were some of the early initiators that were paying more attention to ADA before any lawsuits approached their door.
Currently, there is a safe harbor clause that allows your existing content to remain as it is, unless altered after January 18, 2018. However, the guidelines do pertain to any page that has been updated after that date. So if you want to avoid the legal costs of being found non-compliant with the ADA, it’s best to make the necessary changes to your website now.
Thank you so much Jeremy for this article. it's a life saver. I was so lost on this issue. What I get from this article is clear. When you're small, focus on building your brand first then invest in a 'expert' website after you have proven you have a viable profitable business. I even had a look at some of the 'top' competitors in my field and boy Wix will just do guys. Your business is NOT your website. Business creates websites. Websites DON'T create business!
Another federal agency, the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board (ATBCB), also known as the Access Board, issues guidelines to ensure that buildings, facilities and transit vehicles are accessible to people with disabilities. The Guidelines & Standards issued under the ADA and other laws establish design requirements for the construction and alteration of facilities. These standards apply to places of public accommodation, commercial facilities, and state and local government facilities.
Level AA is a little more significant, and makes sites accessible to people with a wider range of disabilities, including the most common barriers to use. It won't impact the look and feel of the site as much as Level AAA compliance, though it does include guidance on color contrast and error identification. Most businesses should be aiming for Level AA conformity, and it appears to reflect the level of accessibility the DOJ expects.
When the law was enacted in 1990, it did not specifically address website accessibility for the disabled, but this has become a much-discussed topic in recent years. In 2006, Target settled a class action lawsuit alleging Target.com was inaccessible to the blind, in violation of the ADA, and in 2015 both Reebok and the NBA were hit with a class action lawsuit that alleged their websites did not accomodate the blind and visually impaired.
The words in the tag should be more than a description. They should provide a text equivalent of the image. In other words, the tag should include the same meaningful information that other users obtain by looking at the image. In the example of the mayor’s picture, adding an “alt” tag with the words “Photograph of Mayor Jane Smith” provides a meaningful description.