I recently finished a training in ADA compliance for websites. It was illuminating and daunting, as I realizated that there’s a lot of work to be done. It also reiterated—in no uncertain terms—a gospel I’ve been preaching for several years now. Sites need to be accessible for everyone on every platform. Previously I was just focusing on responsive sites (sites that reformat for the device used, such as a phone or tablet.) Since responsive sites are de rigueur these days, I’d like to focus on your site’s accessibility…can it be accessed by people with disabilities? This includes screen readers and other technology. It’s not just a nice thing, it’s a civil law.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in several areas, including employment, transportation, public accommodations, communications and access to state and local government’ programs and services. As it relates to employment, Title I of the ADA protects the rights of both employees and job seekers. The ADA also establishes requirements for telecommunications relay services. Title IV, which is regulated by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), also requires closed captioning of federally funded public service announcements.
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Case law has been the most helpful in illuminating the implications of the ADA for websites.There have been lawsuits involving companies like Expedia, Hotels.com, Southwest Airlines, and Target as defendants and primarily featuring accessibility organizations as plaintiffs. These cases had mixed results, but each helped clarify the ADA's jurisdiction on the web.
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.
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.