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Webpage designers often have aesthetic preferences and may want everyone to see their webpages in exactly the same color, size and layout. But because of their disability, many people with low vision do not see webpages the same as other people. Some see only small portions of a computer display at one time. Others cannot see text or images that are too small. Still others can only see website content if it appears in specific colors. For these reasons, many people with low vision use specific color and font settings when they access the Internet – settings that are often very different from those most people use. For example, many people with low vision need to use high contrast settings, such as bold white or yellow letters on a black background. Others need just the opposite – bold black text on a white or yellow background. And, many must use softer, more subtle color combinations.
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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.
For instance, if you have a video that displays the benefits of your product, but it doesn’t have captions, then people who are deaf or hard of hearing will not get to find out how great your product is. The same goes for when you have images with no alternate text. The point of the alternate text is to allow screen reading tools to describe the image to someone who is blind, so if you don’t have that text, some of your audience will miss out. Similarly, it’s important to ensure your website is fully accessible without a mouse so that people with physical limitations can use it.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was developed in 1990 and is meant to ensure that people with disabilities have the same opportunities as anyone else. This means any businesses that serve the public must make sure their building accommodates people with disabilities of various kinds. And now that the internet is so widely used, ADA compliance also applies to websites and even mobile apps. Basically, this means that your website needs to be accessible to people who have disabilities that affect their hearing, vision or physical capacities.
Camacho is a blind resident of Brooklyn, NY. He is currently making headline news for taking 50 colleges to court under ADA lawsuits. Camacho filed lawsuits regarding website accessibility for all 50 of the colleges. The plaintiff uses a screen-reader but experienced a barrier when trying to access information. The majority of colleges being taken to court are private, including Cornell and Vanderbilt to name a couple.
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 Department is evaluating whether promulgating regulations about the accessibility of Web information and services are necessary and appropriate. Such an evaluation will be informed by an additional review of data and further analysis. The Department will continue to assess whether specific technical standards are necessary and appropriate to assist covered entities with complying with the ADA.
Now you know that some types of content and format on webpages can pose barriers for people with disabilities. The next steps are to develop an action plan to fix web content that is currently inaccessible and implement procedures to ensure that all new and modified web content is accessible. The website accessibility checklist included in this section helps you assess what needs to be done.
Since the ADA does not specifically address web accessibility, it means the Department of Justice (DOJ) will not, at this time, intervene. This means it cannot levy fines or penalties against non-compliant businesses. However, individuals and groups can file civil suits against businesses. If the court rules in the plaintiffs’ favor (the individual or group), the business will be ordered to make their website accessible, and may have to pay the plaintiffs’ attorney fees in some cases. Failure to meet these obligations in the time allotted may result in a civil contempt of court charge or additional legal action by the plaintiff.
For federal institutions, Section 508 makes it very clear that all federal-related websites must be accessible to all individuals, with and without disabilities. For private commercial websites, the Department of Justice (DOJ), which enforces the ADA, has made it clear that it interprets the ADA as applicable to websites. In 2010, the DOJ issued an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to specifically ensure all websites, public and private, are subject to ADA compliance. The DOJ’s proposed amendments to the ADA were initially expected in Spring of 2016 but have now been pushed back to 2018.
Government Code §11546.7 – The requirement that state agency heads certify, every two years, that their agency’s website meets the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, Version 2.0 or a subsequent version, at Level AA or higher, and the requirements of Sections 11135 and 7405 of the Government Code. Created by AB 434 (Baker, Chapter 780, Statutes of 2017), and sometimes referred to as AB 434.
Do all websites have to be ADA compliant? Does yours? Though the legal definitions are somewhat unclear, it is clear that inaccessibility invites legal action and misgivings from customers. Web accessibility does not have to be complex, and it may not take much to test your site and make it accessible. Take web accessibility step by step and you can avoid stressful lawsuits, and invite all patrons to your website.
The ADA guidelines provide the foundation that organizations need to achieve digital accessibility best approaches, however they are not exhaustive. They do not provide direction for all of the accessibility challenges that people with disabilities face. They also fail to provide detailed technical instructions. With these limitations in mind, there is a ray of hope.
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.
This is the exact opposite of mistake #1. Let me start by revealing a dirty little secret when it comes to website design. Most people think, Oh, I’m going to hire a professional website firm because I want a “real website” As opposed to a Word Press website or something else. And what most people don't realize is that all websites are made from the same stuff.
The legal issue for websites is whether website operators are operating “a place of public accommodation.” The statute lists 12 different types of public accommodations including somewhat of a catchall that includes “other sales or rental establishment.” The list, created when the law was passed in 1988, conceivably covers most commercial establishments, but does not expressly include websites.
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.
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.