As we discussed in our post on WCAG 2.1, when you create any type of web content, whether it’s a website or web application, you need to ensure that the content you’re creating is accessible and useable by all people.
When considering how you can make your web content accessible, you also need to consider whether your website will be required to follow ADA compliance standards. If you’re not sure where to start, take a look at some of this information on the ADA and its regulations.
What Is the ADA?
The ADA is the Americans with Disabilities Act. There are five titles under the ADA, the first of which was originally published by the Department of Justice in 1990. Titles II and III were added on July 26, 1991. These new titles incorporated accessibility guidelines. The guidelines and regulations were updated again on September 15, 2010.
Since its implementation, a number of website accessibility lawsuits have been filed under Title III. It states:
Title III prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in the activities of places of public accommodations (businesses that are generally open to the public and that fall into one of 12 categories listed in the ADA, such as restaurants, movie theaters, schools, daycare facilities, recreation facilities, and doctors’ offices) and requires newly constructed or altered places of public accommodation—as well as commercial facilities (privately owned, nonresidential facilities such as factories, warehouses, or office buildings)—to comply with the ADA Standards.
With the inclusion of the 2010 standards, Title III’s anti-discriminatory policies have increasingly been applied to websites and websites are now understood to be “places of public accommodation.” Read on to learn more about how the ADA is being applied to websites.
Does My Website Have to Follow ADA Standards?
As stated above, Title III specifically mentions public accommodations. So that begs the question: do all websites have to be ADA compliant? The short answer is yes, all websites must be accessible under the ADA. Federal, state, and local government websites are also required to meet section 508 standards for accessibility.
Relevant Web Accessibility Lawsuits
In 2017, there were 814 federal lawsuits related to website accessibility. In 2018, that number skyrocketed to 2,285. In 2019 there were 2,235 cases. 2020 is on track to have the same if not more website accessibility lawsuits, perhaps only slowing because of processing delays related to Coronavirus. There have been lawsuits against businesses in a variety of industries, however, some of the most prominent lawsuits have been against
- Fast food businesses, including: Dominos, Burger King, Quizno’s, and Arby’s
- Restaurants, including: Red Lobster and T.G.I. Friday’s
- Grocery stores, including: Winn-Dixie and Safeway
- Retail and e-commerce businesses, including: Amazon and Blue Apron
Website Accessibility Lawsuit Against Winn-Dixie
In 2016, Winn-Dixie was sued because their website was not accessible to blind people via screen readers. Winn-Dixie lost the case and had to set aside $250,000 to fix their website. This case is widely cited as the case that established a precedent that websites are held to the same standards as physical locations (relating to ADA). Websites are now a public space that must accommodate people with disabilities.
Dominos v Robles – Website Accessibility Supreme Court Decision
You may have heard about the website accessibility case filed under the ADA against Dominos by a blind gentleman who was unable to order a pizza via their online ordering application. The case was filed in 2016 and federal courts ruled against Dominos, stating that Dominos needed to have an accessible website under ADA laws.
Domino’s petitioned to take the battle to the Supreme Court & in October of 2019, the Supreme Court denied hearing Domino’s case. This was widely considered a win for accessibility advocates and proof that the ADA does apply to websites. You can read more about the Dominos v Robles decision in our article, “Supreme Court Refuses to Hear Domino’s Case In Website Accessibility Lawsuit.”
Website Accessibility Lawsuit Against Blue Apron
Blue Apron, the grocery delivery service, was sued in 2017 because their website had a number of accessibility errors, including no alt-tags in place to describe images and no captions on videos that explain key features/benefits of the Blue Apron service.
Blue Apron attempted to have the case dismissed, but the District Court in New Hampshire denied their motion, allowing the case to proceed. This is an ongoing case to watch, however, it was considered an accessibility “win” because Blue Apron does not have a physical store. The New Hampshire District Court’s decision that the case can proceed, means that businesses without physical storefronts or offices open to the public are still required to accommodate people with disabilities on their websites under the ADA.
Harvard + MIT Captioning Lawsuits
In the past year, the National Association of the Deaf reached a settlement in cases against Harvard and MIT surrounding captioning on YouTube.
The universities were accused of failing to make their open online courses, guest lectures, and other video content accessible to people who are deaf or hard of hearing by providing high-quality captioning on the videos. In some cases their videos have no captions; in other cases, the videos had YouTube’s auto-generated captions that no one had reviewed or corrected, and that were so poor quality that they were unintelligible.
The lawsuits were originally filed in 2015 and at one point MIT filed a motion to dismiss the case. In response, the court ruled that federal laws prohibiting disability discrimination do cover online content on social media platforms as well. MIT and Harvard are now both going through the process of ensuring their online content on and off their websites is accessible.
How Can I Make Sure My Website Follows ADA Compliance Policies?
The best way to ensure that your website is keeping up with ADA standards is to read the full ADA document from the Department of Justice.
There is also a simple acronym that can help you make sure your website is accessible: POUR. This acronym comes from the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).
Make Sure Your Website is POUR
POUR. stands for perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust. An accessible website should be:
This means that a user must be able to perceive the information being presented, and it cannot be invisible to all of their senses.
This means that the user interface and navigation components of your website need to be operable; the interface cannot require an interaction that a user would be unable to perform or complete.
Users must be able to understand not only the information in your web content, but they must also be able to understand the operations of the user interface.
Your web content needs to be robust enough that a wide variety of users can interpret it, including assistive technologies.
Follow WCAG to Meet Your Accessibility Requirements
While the WCAG are separate from the ADA standards, they can be useful in creating an accessible website. Generally, the recommended standard for accessibility on the web is WCAG 2.1 with a conformance level of AA (learn more about WCAG conformance levels here).
Both the ADA standards and WCAG typically apply to:
- Technical components, such as code or markup that defines the structure of the website. These components need to be accessible with assistive technology, like a screen reader.
- Functional components, which make up the entirety of your website, should be operable and understandable for individuals with disabilities. These components could include images, text, and sounds.
- Supportive components, like documents or alternative information must be accessible.
If your website and online content meets or exceeded WCAG 2.1 AA, then you’re likely doing just fine and do not need to worry about receiving an accessibility complaint.
If your website is not ADA compliant or you’re not sure how to check your website’s accessibility, then it’s time to bring in trained accessibility professionals to help. Our team of web accessibility experts is here to help you meet your legal requirements under the ADA and ensure that your website is useable by people of all abilities.
Please reach out to us if you would like a free risk assessment or if you would like to learn more about our accessibility audit and remediation services. Call (512) 942-5858 ext. 1 to get started today.