Title II prohibits disability discrimination by all public entities at the local level, e.g., school district, municipal, city, or county, and at state level. Public entities must comply with Title II regulations by the U.S. Department of Justice. These regulations cover access to all programs and services offered by the entity. Access includes physical access described in the ADA Standards for Accessible Design and programmatic access that might be obstructed by discriminatory policies or procedures of the entity.
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.
Enough Time: Users have sufficient time to read and use the website’s content. If part of the website has a time limit, users are able to turn off the time limit, or they can adjust or extend it to at least ten times the default limit (unless the time limit is essential to the website’s functionality, such as auction websites like eBay). Content that moves, blinks, or automatically updates can be paused or stopped unless it’s essential to the website’s functionality.
The statement that “noncompliance with a voluntary technical standard for website accessibility does not necessarily indicate noncompliance with the ADA” is new and significant. It is a recognition that a website may be accessible and usable by the blind without being fully compliant with the privately developed Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 or 2.1. The statement confirms what some courts have said so far: That the operative legal question in a website accessibility lawsuit is not whether the website conforms with WCAG, but whether persons with disabilities are able to access to a public accommodation’s goods, services, and benefits through the website, or some alternative fashion.
Shortly before the act was passed, disability rights activists with physical disabilities coalesced in front of the Capitol Building, shed their crutches, wheelchairs, powerchairs and other assistive devices, and immediately proceeded to crawl and pull their bodies up all 100 of the Capitol's front steps, without warning. As the activists did so, many of them chanted "ADA now", and "Vote, Now". Some activists who remained at the bottom of the steps held signs and yelled words of encouragement at the "Capitol Crawlers". Jennifer Keelan, a second grader with cerebral palsy, was videotaped as she pulled herself up the steps, using mostly her hands and arms, saying "I'll take all night if I have to." This direct action is reported to have "inconvenienced" several senators and to have pushed them to approve the act. While there are those who do not attribute much overall importance to this action, the "Capitol Crawl" of 1990 is seen by some present-day disability activists in the United States as a central act for encouraging the ADA into law.
In one case where the defendant, Bang & Olfusen, won its motion to dismiss, the court noted that the plaintiff had failed to plead a nexus between the physical place of public accommodation and the website in question. In the other case, the court dismissed the claims made against Domino’s because requiring the defendant to comply with a set of web accessibility guidelines that are not yet law would violate due process principles. The Domino’s decision is on appeal and will be reviewed by the Ninth Circuit in 2018. Our post about these cases is here.
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The way a lot of people think about getting a new website is, they have a certain amount of money and they think, If I pay less money for a website, I'll have extra money left over, therefore I win. And so they'll go and get a Square Space or a Wix or a Go Daddy website, and they'll think because they've saved money they're coming out ahead of the deal.
Because the ADA does not specifically mention websites, it also does not outline standards for how organizations can make their websites accessible. However, the DOJ has frequently cited recommendations such as the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 as acceptable metrics for accessibility. WCAG 2.0 includes many different criteria at three different “success levels” of accessibility, ranging from high-contrast color schemes to closed captions for video content.
Access Now v. Southwest Airlines was a case where the District Court decided that the website of Southwest Airlines was not in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, because the ADA is concerned with things with a physical existence and thus cannot be applied to cyberspace. Judge Patricia A. Seitz found that the "virtual ticket counter" of the website was a virtual construct, and hence not a "public place of accommodation." As such, "To expand the ADA to cover 'virtual' spaces would be to create new rights without well-defined standards."
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).
In 2001, for men of all working ages and women under 40, Current Population Survey data showed a sharp drop in the employment of disabled workers, leading at least two economists to attribute the cause to the Act. By contrast, a study in 2003 found that while the Act may have led to short term reactions by employers, in the long term, there were either positive or neutral consequences for wages and employment. In 2005 the rate of employment among disabled people increased to 45% of the population of disabled people.
DOJ’s September 25 response did not do what the members asked, but it did provide some helpful guidance and invited Congress to take legislative action to address the exploding website accessibility litigation landscape. DOJ first said it was “evaluating whether promulgating specific web accessibility standards through regulations is necessary and appropriate to ensure compliance with the ADA.” (This is helpful – to at least know this issue has not fallen totally off DOJ’s radar.) It continued:
Distinguishable: To assist color-blind users and those with other visual impairments, color is never used as the sole means of conveying information or prompting the user. Audio lasting more than 3 seconds can be paused, or the volume can be controlled independently of the system volume. Regular text has a contrast ratio of at least 4.5:1, and large text has a contrast ratio of at least 3:1. In addition, text can be resized up to 200 percent without causing issues with the website.
I own a medical practice in California with 5 employees. Since I have under 15 employees am I exempt from needing to have my website comply with the ADA? I know that my physical practice is exempt from ADA policies regarding employment (under 15) but I don’t know if that extends to websites. My website is not an important part of my practice and I don’t really want to sink any funds into it if I don’t need to.
According to the DOJ, “Being unable to access websites puts individuals with disabilities at a great disadvantage in today’s society.” With these words in mind, the DOJ has rapidly adopted the role of web accessibility enforcer. A failure to make digital content, including websites, accessible to all individuals regardless of their emotional, physical, or mental disabilities, can result in hefty fines and class action lawsuits. In short, the DOJ is dedicated to making sure that individuals with disabilities have the same equal access to the benefits that are available online. Creating equal access is only possible if organizations a) understand the requirements of web accessibility, b) know that web accessibility is an obligation under the ADA, and c) make web accessibility a priority. The value that awaits when organizations adhere to digital accessibility laws can be measured in more than dollars and cents.
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