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.
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While the impact of the Americans with Disabilities Act on online accessibility is likely to remain vague for the foreseeable future, there is no question that equal access is a major concern for users across America, and for the courts that serve those users. In lieu of a clear set of national guidelines, abiding by WCAG accessibility standards remains the best option for most organizations. It’s not just a smart way to avoid accessibility lawsuits and negative publicity—providing accessible solutions for all users is just the right thing to do.

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In some circumstances, longer and more detailed text will be necessary to convey the same meaningful information that other visitors to the website can see. For example, a map showing the locations of neighborhood branches of a city library needs a tag with much more information in text format. In that instance, where the map conveys the locations of several facilities, add a “longdesc” tag that includes a text equivalent description of each location shown on the map – e.g., “City Center Library, 433 N. Main Street, located on North Main Street between 4th Avenue and 5th Avenue.”
The Americans with Disabilities Act was instituted in 1990 in an effort to end discrimination based on differing abilities. Drawing heavily from the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964, which established protections against discrimination based on race, religion, sex or national origin, the ADA went a step further by requiring organizations to provide “reasonable accommodations” to employees with disabilities.
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.

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.
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.
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These and other types of multimedia can present two distinct problems for people with different disabilities. People who are deaf or hard of hearing can generally see the information presented on webpages. But a deaf person or someone who is hard of hearing may not be able to hear the audio track of a video. On the other hand, persons who are blind or have low vision are frequently unable to see the video images but can hear the audio track.
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.

Your website is often the first thing your customers see when they’re searching for a business or service on the web. As the face of your organization, your website needs to be attractive and functional, offering the latest features that users now expect. To plan and design a site that both reflects your company’s mission and values and appeals to customers takes a professional web designer. While free online services can help people set up websites, web designers can provide a unique solution made specifically to meet customers’ personal or business needs.

The ADA itself holds different organizations to more/less stringent standards based on a host of factors, government funding being a major one. Government agencies themselves are usually held to the most severe standards. That said, while ADA has adopted WCAG as the defacto standard, from what I’ve seen it appears they’re going with AA compliance as the most reliable one. That said, we’ve done work with some organizations who’ve chosen to comply with AAA in an effort to be as buttoned up as possible from an accessibility and experiential perspective. We’ve also worked with some who have tighter budgers and aim for level A compliance and have a more “react and repair” mindset when they discover anything in their site that is giving someone hardship from an accessibilirt standpoint.

If you return your availability by room type your our online booking engine must also display and hold accessible rooms only for people with disabilities until all other rooms have been booked. (Rule becomes effective March 15, 2012.)  If you return your availability by individual units you do NOT have to hold ADA rooms back until all other units have been reserved.  However, all other ADA regulations do apply (ADA room descriptions, using a booking engine that is ADA compliant, and making your website ADA accessible).


As you’ve probably figured out by now, the answer is no, because it’s not at all clear how or even if ADA rules will be applied to any particular website. Still, it’s generally a good idea to err on the side of caution. Many states have adopted their own accessibility laws, and the volume of accessibility-related lawsuits filed against websites has ballooned in recent years. Plaintiffs have been more successful in these suits than ever before. With no clearly defined regulations to follow, it is probably not worth it for most companies to gamble that a court will rule in their favor.
Do all websites have to be ADA compliant? Technically, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Title III, which concerns public businesses, does not specifically address websites. Local and state government websites must be accessible under Title II of the ADA and Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act. However, ADA civil suits have been brought against businesses with inaccessible websites, and courts have ordered some businesses to make their websites accessible.
Many people with disabilities use assistive technology that enables them to use computers. Some assistive technology involves separate computer programs or devices, such as screen readers, text enlargement software, and computer programs that enable people to control the computer with their voice. Other assistive technology is built into computer operating systems. For example, basic accessibility features in computer operating systems enable some people with low vision to see computer displays by simply adjusting color schemes, contrast settings, and font sizes. Operating systems enable people with limited manual dexterity to move the mouse pointer using key strokes instead of a standard mouse. Many other types of assistive technology are available, and more are still being developed.
This is the reason why I think web design firms have to position themselves as solution providers and not just web guys/gals. A client doesn't need a website, they need sales. The website is just part of that solution but it's not the solution and unlike web design, service like email marketing automation, SEO, and PPC requires an experienced professional.
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