Does the term ‘ADA compliant’ leave you feeling confused or overwhelmed? You’re not alone. Many website owners and developers find it challenging to understand the legal implications and requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
In this article, we aim to demystify the concept of ‘ADA compliance’ as it applies to digital platforms. We’ll delve into the differences between ADA and Section 508, discuss the importance of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), and explore the evolving legal landscape of online accessibility requirements.
What is ADA Compliance?
The ADA is a U.S. federal law established in 1990 and later amended. Its purpose is to prevent discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life.
While the ADA doesn’t specifically detail requirements for digital content, court rulings have expanded its reach to include websites and mobile apps. Essentially, ADA compliance means ensuring that digital platforms are fully accessible and usable by people with various types of disabilities.
Defining Disability Under the ADA
Under the ADA, a disability is a physical or mental impairment that significantly restricts one or more major life activities. This broad definition covers a variety of conditions, including but not limited to:
- Visual Impairments: Ensure your content is navigable and readable for users with screen readers or Braille displays.
- Hearing Impairments: Videos should have captions, and audio content should come with transcripts.
- Motor Disabilities: Your platform should be accessible using assistive technologies like adaptive keyboards or simple keyboard commands for those unable to use a mouse.
- Cognitive Disabilities: Make your content clear and easy to comprehend, offering options to disable features like rapidly flashing or blinking elements that could trigger seizures in susceptible individuals.
In the sections below, we’ll examine the ADA in detail and explore how it aligns with other accessibility guidelines.
WCAG: The Benchmark for ADA Compliance
The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG)is crucial to ADA compliance.
These guidelines, developed by the non-governmental international standards organization, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), offer a robust set of recommendations to make web content more accessible for individuals with disabilities.
The ADA doesn’t directly reference the WCAG, but many legal professionals view compliance with these guidelines as an effective method to meet the ADA’s non-discrimination and equal access requirements.
The reason is that the WCAG offers clear, actionable standards for various aspects of web design and functionality, which ensure that websites and digital platforms cater to users with diverse disabilities.
Even more importantly, WCAG is often the preferred standard for the U.S. Department of Justice, judges, and lawyers when enforcing, ruling on, or settling accessibility issues.
The WCAG is updated periodically to keep pace with technological advancements. Its tiered system—Levels A (minimum), AA (mid-range), and AAA (highest)—provides flexibility in implementing different levels of accessibility.
The Power of Digital Accessibility
Creating an ADA-compliant website or app opens up your services or products to a significant portion of the adult population who might otherwise be unable to access them.
In the United States alone, 1 in 4 adults live with some type of disability—a substantial group who could be barred from engaging with your digital content if it isn’t accessible.
The European market also offers considerable opportunities for extended reach through digital accessibility. Approximately 87 million people in the European Union live with a disability.
By neglecting accessibility, you risk alienating millions of potential European users who could contribute to your brand’s success.
The Legal Consequences of Non-Compliant Digital Platforms
Failing to ensure that your digital platforms are ADA compliant can lead to legal complications.
Owners of inaccessible websites may face lawsuits in several jurisdictions known to favor plaintiffs. Surprisingly, your business doesn’t need to be physically present or incorporated in a specific state or federal district to be summoned to court there.
Courts often consider whether the company has intentionally conducted business within the jurisdiction in question. For instance, an e-commerce company that targets customers in a specific location, even without a physical presence there, could potentially face legal action in that jurisdiction.
Moreover, state long-arm statutes permit courts to exercise jurisdiction over defendants from other states if they have consistent and systematic contacts with the state or have caused harm within it.
If your organization is sued and settles or loses the case, it could prove costly. You’ll likely have to pay a settlement amount or damages, in addition to legal fees for both parties.
An Increase in ADA Lawsuits
There’s been a notable rise in ADA lawsuits in federal courts. Major companies have faced legal challenges and paid substantial settlements. Other corporations have chosen to settle cases out of court to avoid litigation.
However, it’s not just large corporations that are targeted. Small and medium-sized businesses also receive demand letters and face lawsuits every year.
This serves as a reminder for all businesses to review their websites and digital platforms for compliance with accessibility standards.
Frequently Asked Questions
What does ADA compliance mean for websites?
ADA compliance ensures that websites are accessible to users with disabilities, as per the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). While not specifically mentioned in the ADA, online accessibility is considered a requirement for public and commercial entities by the U.S. Department of Justice, courts, and legal experts.
How can I determine if my website is ADA compliant?
You can check if your website aligns with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). Automated tools can provide some assistance, but manual testing offers comprehensive insights.
What are the potential repercussions of not making my website ADA compliant?
Non-compliance can result in legal lawsuits, harm to your brand’s reputation, and missed business opportunities due to inaccessible content.