By Paul Schlienz
Wheelchair ramps near building entrances, handicapped parking spaces, and the use of Braille on signs and placards – these are the fruits of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), signed into law by President George H.W. Bush in 1990. And increasingly, this law is reaching into cyberspace.
“The ADA made it mandatory for all commercial and public entities that have places of public accommodation, under Title III – including the Internet – to comply with the law,” said John Guidroz of DigiPro Media – a Florida-based Web development firm.
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The ADA affects the following people and entities:
- Americans with disabilities including their friends, families and caregivers
- Private employers with 15 or more employees
- Businesses that operate for the benefit of the public
- All state and local government agencies
“Businesses that are classified as places of lodging must comply with the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), the Americans with Disabilities Act Architectural Guidelines and the 2010 ADA Standards, that are incorporated by reference into the ADA,” according to Guidroz.
There are good reasons why website accessibility is a concern of the ADA. Website accessibility lowers barriers for persons with disabilities to participate in business and commerce. Accordingly, judges have reached the conclusion that commercial websites need to be accessible. The U.S. Department of Justice has repeatedly sided with plaintiffs in lawsuits over website accessibility, which are increasing at an exponential rate. Indeed, between January and August 2017, there were 432 ADA lawsuits filed in federal court—more than all the ADA lawsuits in 2015 and 2016 combined.
To protect yourself from this kind of litigation, it’s a good idea to proactively invest in creating an accessible website. And this brings us to the question: What is an ADA-compliant website?
“When a website can be ‘read’ and understood by people with disabilities that use assistive technology such as JAWS or NVDA, it is complying the ADA,” said Guidroz. “Some examples of what make a site accessible include, coding with descriptive tags on images to tell the reader what the picture is or having all the ADA compliant architectural features listed in the unit type listing on both the website description and the booking engine – even if it is third party vendor.”
So, what steps should you take to make sure a website is ADA compliant?
“Ensuring that your website is accessible to all users begins with the initial development using the WCAG 2.0 AA or Section 508 standards, depending on which state your business operates in,” according to Guidroz. “If you are uncertain if those standards were utilized, have a full evaluation by a Web accessibility professional, performed on your site and post an accessibility plan to alert the public that you are taking the necessary steps to become ADA compliant. Then consult with your Web team/accessibility expert on how to resolve any issues that may be discovered. Finally, as laws and standards around Web accessibility are updated, understand that your website and accessibility plan will also need to be revised, so be sure to keep up with any changes.”