ADA Compliance and the World Wide Web: A Brief Summary

On your way into a restaurant you may have noticed a wheelchair ramp leading to the door of the building, or perhaps a parking sign outside right by the door that reads “Handicap Parking Only” with a picture of a person in a wheelchair. These are just two accommodations put forth by the ADA for the purpose of helping disabled Americans. The ADA doesn’t just want to help disabled people in real life; it’s also trying to tackle the problems they face online as well.

What ADA means from an Online Perspective

In 1990 the Department of Justice enacted the ADA, or Americans with Disabilities Act, to help end discrimination against Americans with disabilities and has a pretty wide range of subject matter that it covers, including:

  • State and local government
  • Public and private spaces
  • Employment
  • Building codes
  • Transportation
  • Telecommunication

Title III of the ADA requires “places of public accommodation” (any and all businesses open to the public) remove any “access barriers” that would bar a disabled person from accessing a good or service. When this was passed in 1990 the Internet was still infantile, and an “access barrier” was exactly what it sounded like: a physical barrier (like stairs) that prevented one from accessing an establishment.

But then, in 2010, the Department of Justice issues an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking indicating that they were seeking to change the language of Title III to include website accessibility as well.

“Establish requirements for making the goods, services, facilities, privileges, accommodations, or advantages offered by public accommodations via the Internet, specifically at sites on the World Wide Web (Web), accessible to individuals with disabilities.”

This was the DOJ’s intention with the amendment to Title III of the ADA. However, various courts had heard parts of the DOJ’s argument to mixed results. This had led to different interpretations of regulation change.
Some courts have ruled that only websites with goods and/or services tied to a physical location, i.e. a retailer that sells it’s goods both at a storefront and also on a website, are considered “places of public accommodation” and therefore would be covered by the ADA.
However other courts have broadly argued that any website offering goods and/or services online should be considered “places of public accommodation”, even if they don’t have a physical presence.
Now while “public accommodations” could mean a variety of things it’s generally accepted as a B2C, retail, or any business the public should be able to use, understand and access easily. Not to mention, being ADA compliant could save you a small fortune!

W3C Guidelines

In August of 2016 University of California Berkeley was found in violation of Title II or Title III of ADA by the Department of Justice. The ruling came about because their YouTube content did not include captions for the hearing impaired. This violated the ADA, as it did not provide a way for deaf users to experience their content.

This case is very important as it set the precedent for what became the standard guideline to ADA compliance. The court ruled, in 2016, that UC Berkeley should consult the World Wide Web Consortium’s (W3C) Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0 AA) so they can be better aligned with ADA. The W3C’s WCAG became the standard guideline for ADA compliance earlier this year on January 18th.

WCAG are a set of guidelines that rate your website on terms of accessibility. The ratings are as follow: A (not very accessible), AA (accessible), AAA (very accessible). These rankings are given to 61 different categories on your site, although it’s not as bad as it sounds. In fact, your website most likely has an AA or AAA in most categories!

Quick Glance at the Four Main WGAC Categories

The WGAC can be split into four main categories: Perceivable, Operable, Understandable, and Robust.

  1. Perceivable information and user interface components of a webpage must be presentable in a way that is perceived by all users.
    • All non-text content should have text alternative that serves equivalent purposes.
    • Provide alternatives for time-based media i.e. providing captions on a video.
    • Making sure that your webpage is can change to accommodate things like large print text, without losing information or structure.
    • Making sure that elements are distinguishable from one another, for example, having text on your webpage less difficult to read by having it contrast well with the webpage’s background.
  2.  Operable User interface components and navigation must be operable.
    • Having all content of a website accessible through a keyboard (by itself) without the use of timed keystrokes.
    • Provide users with enough time to read and view content on your webpage.
    • Do not design content in a way that is known to cause seizures.
    • Provide way to help users navigate, find content, and determine where they are.
  3. Understandable information and operation of the user interface must be understandable.
    • Making sure that the webpage is readable, for example, providing users with a mechanism for pronunciation when the pronunciation is otherwise ambiguous .
    • Make webpages appear and operate in similar and predictable fashions.
    • Help users identify and avoid mistakes.
  4. Robust Content must be robust enough to be interpreted reliably by a wide variety of user agents, including assistive technologies.
    • Maximize compatibility with current and future user agents, including assistive technologies.

The Importance of ADA Compliance

The Department of Justice has made it clear to us that they want the internet to be inclusive to all, and who’s to blame them. The internet is a grand, complex piece of engineering and it’s up to all of us to make sure that everyone can access our content, regardless of who they may be. ADA isn’t just a way to make sure that your webpage is accessible but also that it’s organized and efficient. Here at the Niki Jones Agency, Inc. we will provide you with a full ADA Analysis Report and if your website is determined to be non-compliant we will offer full remediation services to bring your website into a full state of compliance. To learn more, please visit or call us at 845-856-1266!

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