ADA Compliance, Its Effect on Website Accessibility, and What You Can Do
So much of our Web experience is dictated by our ability to see and hear what is going on in front of us: breathtaking images flashing across the screen; captivating discussions taking place in the comments section of a breaking news article; fascinating podcasts streaming through our earbuds; or that hilarious viral video that had us laughing for the last 20 minutes.
But for individuals who are blind or deaf, most of those things are impossible to experience in today’s current Web environment. Even the mundane, everyday tasks that many of us take for granted, like paying our bills online or shopping online for a new washing machine, can be impossible for many. As a result, lawyers have started targeting large businesses, citing the ADA – or Americans with Disabilities Act – due to the lack of accessibility on those businesses’ websites. And with the U.S. Department of Justice announcing its plans to implement Web-based ADA regulations in 2018, it’s only a matter of time before businesses of all sizes are affected.
Back in 2010, the Department of Justice noted that the traditional definition of “places of public accommodation” should probably be expanded to include websites because, “[i]ncreasingly, private entities are providing goods and services to the public through websites that operate as places of public accommodation.*” And although the DOJ has continued to delay the implementation of its rulings from 2010 until now, many businesses have already been taken to court over website accessibility issues, and that number has skyrocketed each year since 2015. Attorneys are targeting all types of businesses that provide public accommodation, such as retailers, restaurants and schools. Some of the big names include the likes of Fordham University, H&M, Five Guys and Ethan Allen, all of which have been accused of failing to accommodate their visually- and/or hearing-impaired patrons on the Web. And then there are places like the University of California at Berkeley, which – in an attempt to avoid a lawsuit – have gone as far as restricting public access to their lectures and podcasts because they do not currently comply with the new interpretation of the ADA. Others still, like the Riese Organization, which owns several restaurants in New York City, have taken down their websites completely.
Once the new laws are put in place, businesses will be required to adopt a series of baseline requirements, most of which are very technical in nature. For example, websites will be required to implement alternative text, or hidden code in the script of a website, that can be read by third-party assistive technologies to help individuals translate content according to their specific needs. Other guidelines are aimed at individuals with cognitive delays and include removing time limits, limiting media from automatically playing and ensuring that all website functions can be controlled through a keyboard.
While we wait to hear what the Department of Justice ultimately decides to implement, there is a great resource called the Web Accessibility Evaluation Tool (WAVE) that we recommend using to test out your own website’s current accessibility. Simply visit the site and type your URL into the search bar. It will highlight for you the areas on your site that need to be improved or changed.
If you find that your site needs some work in complying with the upcoming ADA guidelines, we can help. Contact us now to schedule a consultation.