In a society in which business is increasingly conducted online, excluding businesses that sell services through the Internet from the ADA would ‘run afoul of the purposes of the ADA’” in that it would prevent “‘individuals with disabilities [from] fully enjoy[ing] the goods, services, privileges, and advantages, available indiscriminately to other members of the general public.
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.
The fact that an ADA compliant website can increase your target audience by millions is just one reason to make your site more accessible. Another benefit is that not only will you get more customers, but those customers will also know how valuable they are to your business. After all, they might have gone to a few other websites that were not ADA compliant, disappointed each time that they couldn’t access the content, until they got to your website.
While legal considerations might be your biggest worry, making your site more accessible is simply good customer service. More than 39 million Americans are blind and another 246 million have "low vision," Another one million are deaf in the U.S. Add to that people with mobility issues that prevent them from using their hands and that's a huge portion of the country's buying power.
The U.S. Department of Transportation enforces regulations governing transit, which includes ensuring that recipients of federal aid and state and local entities responsible for roadways and pedestrian facilities do not discriminate on the basis of disability in highway transportation programs or activities. The department also issues guidance to transit agencies on how to comply with the ADA to ensure that public transit vehicles and facilities are accessible.
Most recently, however, pizza chain Domino's has been brought under suit for their website not being accessible for specialty ordering. The U.S. Supreme Court refused to review the case, instead upholding the decision of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals who said the “alleged inaccessibility of Domino’s website and app impedes access to the goods and services of its physical pizza franchises—which are places of public accommodation.”
While the influx of the dot.com world eliminated the need for brick-and-mortar locations for all stores (think eBay or Amazon), all of the above categories typically had a headquarters, if not multiple locations where one could visit and interact. This would ensure a unique experience, often depending on the individual needs of the visitor. For instance, when visiting a municipal building or institute of learning, a variety of methods are available to get to higher floors (stairs, elevators, ramps and escalators).
The DOJ is currently working to release new technical standards for digital accessibility. The latter updates to the ADA guidelines will be in conjunction with the latest version of WCAG 2.1, which includes the most widely accepted digital accessibility requirements across the globe. If organizations want to overcome the current limitations of ADA guidelines, then they should follow the WCAG 2.1 checklist,11 as well as the suggestions provided by the ADA. The latter two steps, combined with the help of a trusted digital accessibility compliance platform,12 can help organizations achieve digital accessibility best in class standards throughout all of their digital formats and across all media.
HTML tags – specific instructions understood by a web browser or screen reader. One type of HTML tag, called an “alt” tag (short for “alternative text”), is used to provide brief text descriptions of images that screen readers can understand and speak. Another type of HTML tag, called a “longdesc” tag (short for “long description”), is used to provide long text descriptions that can be spoken by screen readers.
The question of ADA’s exact wording comes down to two issues: 1) whether the ADA applies to a website at all, and 2) if ADA applies only to websites that have a physical connection to goods and services available at a physical store or location, or if it applies to all websites even if they don’t have physical spaces. Courts are split on these issues but one thing is for certain: the tide is moving toward ADA compliance for websites, and the lack of specific legal wording prohibiting web discrimination has not stopped businesses from being sued.
Hey OB – Disclaimer – none of this is legal advice and you’d want to check with a lawyer to know if you’re at risk for any action if you’re not ADA compliant. Based on what we’ve seen if you don’t have a physical retail or service location, and you don’t receive any funding from the government you likely aren’t required to have a website that would be considered compliant. Some people expect that to change in the next few years, but that’s what we know for now. Let us know if you have more questions or would like to test your site.
People with disabilities that affect their sight, hearing, or mobility may have difficulty accessing certain parts of websites and other online properties unless certain accommodations are made. Just as businesses may need to make adjustments to their physical location so that disabled customers have easy access to the premises, companies may need to adjust certain aspects of their websites so individuals with disabilities can take full advantage of all the features and services.
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.