Innovation@work: Does My Website Need to be ADA Compliant?
By: Kristin Mendoza
Just about any business of any size has some sort of web presence. In fact, websites are often the primary source for consumers to get information and to make purchases of a company’s products or services. A growing trend in litigation over the past few years has been to target businesses that fail to make their websites compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
In 2017, 814 lawsuits were filed against businesses on the basis of website non-compliance with the ADA. Last year, the number of lawsuits filed reached 2,258; an overall increase of 177%. Startups and small business owners, especially in the restaurant and entertainment sectors, are increasingly getting drawn into these types of lawsuits. In light of this lawsuit activity, it’s a good time to examine whether your business website should be ADA compliant.
Does the ADA apply to my business?
Title III of the ADA prohibits discrimination on the basis of a disability in the activities of “places of public accommodation.” A place of public accommodation is a business that is generally open to the public and that falls into one of 12 categories listed in the ADA. Examples include restaurants, movie theaters, fitness clubs, hotels, beauty salons, law firms, doctors’ offices, libraries, museums, bakeries, clothing stores, retail stores, convention centers, private schools, amusement parks and play areas, grocery stores, bowling alleys and shopping centers.
How does the ADA apply to my company’s website or mobile app?
The ADA originally provided accessibility standards for a business’ physical location and did not contemplate the internet, websites or mobile apps. Things such as width of doors and aisles, restrooms that can accommodate wheelchairs and elevators in multi-story buildings are all examples of how the ADA has addressed accessibility for disabled persons visiting a physical location.
However, with e-commerce now being a mainstream way for purchasing products and services, the U.S. government and courts are becoming more accepting of the idea that websites and mobile apps for places of public accommodation are subject to similar accessibility standards.
How do we make our company website or mobile app ADA compliant?
There are four main principles for addressing ADA compliance for a website or mobile app:
- Information must be perceivable
This means that a website’s content cannot be invisible to all of a user’s senses. For example, a website that provides only images of its products or services without captions cannot be read by website reader software for blind customers and is therefore not perceivable because those customers cannot hear what cannot be read.
- The interface must be operable
This means that the website or mobile app cannot require interaction that a user cannot perform. Flashing text or pop-up windows that require quick reading comprehension make a website or mobile app less operable for some disabled persons. A chatbot that allows a user with a reading impairment or cognitive limitations to navigate and find content more easily on the website makes the interface more operable.
- Content must be understandable
This means that the font and appearance of text, as well as language used, should be simple to understand. For interactive websites, such as online retailer or websites that require a user to log in with a user name and password, clear instructions should be put in place so that a user knows how and what information they need to provide.
- The underlying technology must be robust
This means that technology used in developing a website or mobile app should attempt to maximize compatibility across platforms. For example, a website should function equally well on the Google Chrome as well as Firefox and other web browsers. Therefore, the website should not use tags or code that is not widely used or that only certain browsers understand.
The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) is a non-governmental organization that has issued Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. They can be found online. Following these guidelines is not mandatory, but courts often look to the guidelines when considering whether a website violates the ADA.
What are the risks of not having an ADA compliant website?
As mentioned above, lawsuits against business operators without ADA compliant websites are on the rise. In addition to defense costs, a business qualifying as a place of public accommodation without a website or mobile app that complies with the ADA may be liable for the plaintiff’s attorney’s fees, damages owed to the plaintiff and the development costs of making their website ADA compliant.
Beyond the legal risks, there are some business reasons to consider as well. No business can afford to turn away significant segments of a customer base. As a small business owner or startup trying to gain traction with your customers or grow your customer base, removing barriers to accessing your website or mobile app will help you reach even more potential customers.
If your business qualifies as a place of public accommodation but your website is not ADA compliant, take steps to make your website more accessible right away.
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