ADA compliance is changing the way Americans browse the Internet. While there have long been calls to make the web accessible to the differently abled, in recent years, Department of Justice requirements coupled with a surge in lawsuits have made compliance a necessity for websites and their owners. It’s a simple concept: online resources should be available to all people, and websites should utilize features that make that possible. Understanding whether or not a website is ADA compliant, what steps must be taken to achieve and maintain compliance, and what constitutes a disability, however, are more complex matters.
Who Does ADA Protect?
Signed in 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was enacted to prevent disability-based discrimination and provide differently abled Americans with increased access to public accommodations. The World Wide Web Consortium, an international website standards organization commonly referred to as W3C, later introduced Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) with the goal of making the web equally accessible to people with visual and auditory impairments, learning disorders, and other disabilities, such as those that come with advanced age. The most recent version of these guidelines, WCAG 2.1, has been recognized as a universal guideline by numerous courts and is followed by the majority of government agencies and large businesses. Though W3C’s guidelines are better known, the federal government has also promoted website accessibility under Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act.
Planning for the Future
Although the aging population may not consider itself disabled, the ADA defines disability as “physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity.” The U.S Census Bureau projects that the number of people 65 and older will more than double between 2000 and 2030, and the population of people 85 and older alone will increase to 9.6 million (1). Accessibility is the future of the Internet, and websites need to adapt.
A Human Right
The United States Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, DisabilityRights Section mandates that websites be designed or modified with the differently abled in mind. The Internet has become a necessity of modern life, and access to the vast information and services it provides is increasingly considered a human right.
Websites now must incorporate features that can be used by the visually and hearing impaired. This is especially important for public accommodation websites, such as those of government agencies as well as businesses providing consumer goods and services.
Even though an organization’s intention might not be to discriminate, any ADA non-compliant commercial or government website is considered discriminatory toward those with disabilities, and failure to make a site compliant often results in a lawsuit. In fact, ADA-compliance lawsuits in the United States rose 181% in 2018 (2).
The first step toward ADA compliance is an assessment of the website in question. A comprehensive audit can determine your website’s level of compliance and highlight necessary changes. These can involve solutions such as making the site compatible with screen reader software, which translates a page’s visual content into an auditory equivalent and reads it to sight-impaired users.
Niki Jones Agency has been helping organizations navigate the complexity of ADA compliance for the past two years. The agency offers both automatic and manual audits to identify elements of a website which are not accessible to all users and to develop a strategy and remediation plan for making sites compliant. These findings and recommendations are compiled in a detailed ADA Compliance Analysis Report, which the agency follows to remediate all compliance issues.
Once ADA compliance is achieved, Niki Jones Agency works with the client’s content management team to develop guidelines and procedures that can be used in-house to ensure the site remains ADA compliant.
(1) U.S. Census Bureau, “Interim Projections of the Population by Selected Age Groups for the United States and States: April 1, 2000 to July 1, 2030,” 21 April 2005, www.census.gov/population/projections/summaryTabB1.pdf (30 January 2006)
(2) The Washington Post, “Lawsuits Surge Over Websites’ Access for the Blind,” 17 February 2019, https://www.wsj.com/articles/lawsuits-surge-over-websites-access-for-the-blind-11550415600