Business Websites Need to Be ADA Compliant or Risk Being Sued

If your business website is not in compliance with the American Disabilities Act (ADA), it needs to be – soon!

Businesses across the country are being sued for millions of dollars for not having websites that meet the minimum compliance requirements set forth by the ADA Law of 1990 and the Department of Justice technical memorandum addressing website accessibility.

Just recently, a group of law firms has begun suing businesses that are not in compliance with the ADA Law and the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, or WCAG, which outlines enforceable regulations.

Companies like:

  • Target,
  • Bath & Body Works LLC,
  • Giant Food Stores LLC,
  • Build-A-Bear Workshop Inc.,
  • Express Inc.,
  • Office Depot Inc.,
  • DSW Inc.,
  • American Eagle Outfitters Inc., and
  • JC Penny

have all been served.

In Target’s case, the settlement was for $6,000,000 and $20,000 was paid to a non-profit corporation dedicated to helping the blind.

But it’s not just blind consumers that businesses need to consider. The ADA Law and the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines have regulations in place that calls for websites to accommodate individuals who are deaf, visually and/or audibly impaired. All of these individuals have specific requirements that need to be met when they engage with your website online and it better be accessible or else you may find yourself on the other end of a lawsuit.

Believe it or not, your business website needs to be built with specific features so individuals with various disabilities are able to access it and navigate through it like anyone else. If not, you’re placing your business in jeopardy.

What Does a Business Website Need to be ADA Compliant?

Businesses need to ensure they are providing the same information to whoever comes upon their websites. When it comes to visitors with disabilities, they should be able to engage in the same types of transactions that are available to the average public consumer.

Website compliance, in terms of the ADA Law and WCAG, is based on the needs of individuals who are blind, deaf, visually and/or audibly impaired.  Each of these groups has specific needs and, in most instances, these needs are unique to that group.

Part of the settlement in the Target case called for the company to ensure “that blind guests using screen-reader software may acquire the same information and engage in the same transactions as are available to sighted guests with substantially equivalent ease of use.”

A screen reader is one of two specific mechanical devices that are used to support disability groups under the law. The other is a braille reader.  Constructing a website that works with these devices is an absolute requirement.  Additionally, there are other nuances, like colors, screen size adjustment, and fonts, all of which must be addressed.

Other Key Website Requirements to Protect Your Business

There are hundreds of features that need to be evaluated on business websites to ensure compliance. Five primary areas that need to be evaluated to determine whether or not a website meets ADA requirements include:

  1. Text Tags: Do your images include Alt. text tags? These are needed so screen readers and braille readers can interpret the image.
  2. PDF Files: If your website includes PDF files for reading or downloading, is there an HTML or Rich Text Format alternative? Since PDF’s are basically images, they need to have text equivalents so readers are able to interpret them.
  3. Web Browser Adjustments: Does your website allow the images, colors, and fonts to be adjusted by the web browser being used by the viewer? Being able to adjust these three elements of your website is important for visually impaired viewers who may need different contrasts and sizes to see what’s on your website.
  4. Size Adjustments: Does your website allow size adjustment of its content? Often impaired viewers cannot take in the entire screen and need to focus on a specific area by expanding it to interpret the information.
  5. Text Captions: Do your web pages have text captions, i.e. title tags, meta descriptions, and H1-H5 tags that summarize the pages, images, and paragraphs of the website? This is required to make videos and audio tracks understandable to those individuals who may have visual or auditory challenges.

How to Get Started?

The first step you need to take to protect your business is to have your website analyzed for ADA compliance.

We know what to look for and how to add or fix what’s required to keep your business safe.

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Creating an ADA-compliant website

Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires that businesses and nonprofit services providers make accessibility accommodations to enable the disabled public to access the same services as clients who are not disabled. This includes electronic media and websites. While the ADA applies to businesses with 15 or more employees, even smaller businesses can benefit from ensuring that their websites are ADA compliant. Doing so opens your company up to more potential clients and limits liability. Web developers should include ADA compliant features in the original site and application plans.

This is particularly important when working for a government agency or government contractor, as these organizations must follow web accessibility guidelines under Section 508 of the Workforce Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Although ADA and Section 508 compliance are different, the published checklist for Section 508 compliance offers insight into ways to make websites accessible for people with disabilities, and thereby work toward ADA compliance.

To check your website for accessibility, you can use the accessibility checklist published by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (1194.22 Web-based intranet and internet information and applications):

  • Every image, video file, audio file, plug-in, etc. has an alt tag
  • Complex graphics are accompanied by detailed text descriptions
  • The alt descriptions describe the purpose of the objects
  • If an image is also used as a link, make sure the alt tag describes the graphic and the link destination
  • Decorative graphics with no other function have empty alt descriptions (alt= “”)
  • Add captions to videos
  • Add audio descriptions
  • Create text transcript
  • Create a link to the video rather than embedding it into web pages
  • Add a link to the media player download
  • Add an additional link to the text transcript
  • The page should provide alternative links to the Image Map
  • The <area> tags must contain an alt attribute
  • Data tables have the column and row headers appropriately identified (using the <th> tag)
  • Tables used strictly for layout purposes do NOT have header rows or columns
  • Table cells are associated with the appropriate headers (e.g. with the id, headers, scope and/or axis HTML attributes)
  • Make sure the page does not contain repeatedly flashing images
  • Check to make sure the page does not contain a strobe effect
  • A link is provided to a disability-accessible page where the plug-in can be downloaded
  • All Java applets, scripts and plug-ins (including Acrobat PDF files and PowerPoint files, etc.) and the content within them are accessible to assistive technologies, or else an alternative means of accessing equivalent content is provided
  • When form controls are text input fields use the LABEL element
  • When text is not available, use the title attribute
  • Include any special instructions within field labels
  • Make sure that form fields are in a logical tab order
  • Include a ‘Skip Navigation’ button to help those using text readers

(Courtesy U.S. Department of Health and Human Services)

If the site meets all these criteria, it is likely accessible to people with disabilities. The best test is to obtain feedback on the site’s ease of use from people who are blind, deaf, and have mobility disabilities, then address their feedback with site improvements.

When collecting feedback, ask users what type of adaptive technologies (AT) they use. This will allow you to cater your website to your particular clientele, and will help you appoint resources toward the best compliance options. Navigating the Internet is particularly challenging for people with limited or no vision. Many blind people use specialized web browsers and software that works with standard web browsers, like Firefox, that have features that enable users to maximize their Internet use and experience. This screen reading software reads the HTML code for websites and gives the user a verbal translation of what is on screen.

Web developers need to keep this in mind when creating websites. The best screen readers use naturalized voices and alter tone and inflection based on HTML tags, so choose layout elements carefully. It is also important to keep in mind that navigation is significantly slower when using a screen reader than it is for sighted people. Sighted people don’t have to wait for the reader to get to the link we want- we spot links quickly and are able to navigate to our sought items, often without having to do any reading at all. Minimizing graphics also helps shorten reading times and speed navigation for disabled users.

Don’t wait for user feedback to discover the gaps in your website’s accessibility. Conducting your own trial run will tell you where the site has too many graphics, and where HTML tags don’t convey information accurately. It’s wise to do trial runs with as many of the most popular screen readers available:

Development tools and tutorials exist to help web designers meet compliance standards and go beyond to offer disabled users an enjoyable experience (and keep them coming back). Check out the following for more information:

Then make your job easier with these web accessibility development tools:

You probably won’t have to check your site with all of the available evaluation tools out there, but it is a good idea to do so for the most common web browsers. Just as accessibility software makes it easier for people with disabilities to navigate the Internet, these tools make it easier for developers to ensure accessibility from the start. When you think you’ve mastered it, go through the Section 508 compliance checklist to ensure you’ve met every goal.

Website Accessibility & Certification

Welcome to our blog on Website Accessibility where we will be discussing the laws concerning the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0, Section 508 Requirement and Responsibilities (Section 508) and how to design your websites to be compliant and achieve certification.

 

 

WHO NEEDS TO FOLLOW THE WCAG GUIDELINES?

All organizations, Federal and State agencies, and educational institutions should look to the WCAG 2.0 guidelines to provide guidance on how to make products accessible.

Section 508 is currently undergoing a refresh and will be requiring compliance with these guidelines for all Federal agencies and those who are selling to the Federal Government. The Department of Justice is also looking to these guidelines for the set of guidelines that organizations will need to comply to under The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

WHO NEEDS TO FOLLOW THE 508 REQUIREMENTS?

U.S. government websites and applications and those developed using US Federal funds must comply with Section 508. Many state agencies and corporations have adopted the standards.

WHO NEEDS TO FOLLOW THE ADA REQUIREMENTS?

The ADA standards apply to commercial and public entities that have “places of public accommodation” which includes the internet. The DOJ is currently determining the specific regulations but that does not mean website discrimination will be tolerated. The DOJ’s public position was clarified in the following statement made during the Netflix case:

“The Department is currently developing regulations specifically addressing the accessibility of goods and services offered via the web by entities covered by the ADA. The fact that the regulatory process is not yet complete in no way indicates that web services are not already covered by title III.”
— Statement of Interest of the United States Department of Justice in NAD v. Netflix (page 10)

Who does the law affect?

  • Americans with disabilities and their friends, families, and caregivers
  • Private employers with 15 or more employees
  • Businesses operating for the benefit of the public
  • All state and local government agencies