What does ADA compliance mean and why does it matter?
Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is being interpreted by courts to include websites as “places of public accommodation” so a company’s website must be accessible to people with disabilities. This means that a disabled person (visually or physically impaired) should be able to access, navigate, and use the content of your website. If your website is not accessible to people with disabilities, your company could potentially be sued.
ADA website compliance lawsuits are a form of activism for disabled rights. These activists are forcing adoption of accessible website standards using the court system. These firms are filing lawsuits as fast as they are able — and have no reason to stop because what they are doing is working.
We have no communication with these firms or special insight into their legal strategy, but it appears that they are targeting mostly large companies:
66% of the world’s largest retailers have been affected by an ADA lawsuit. 60% of the top U.S. restaurant chains have been affected. Source
It would make sense that they would be starting with the largest and most popular businesses and working their way down to smaller companies. As a small organization it is probably unlikely you will be targeted in the near future. However, there is no guarantee you won’t be affected:
“Just one blind activist sued 175 stores in 2 years. At first, she targeted big-name stores like Sephora, but then she filed a complaint against smaller businesses, like local shoe stores, bakeries, or caterers who have just a small store in a local mall.” Source
When does your website need to be ADA compliant?
There isn’t a set deadline for ADA compliance. Compliance and requirement details are being fleshed out by court rulings happening across the country. The general direction this is heading indicates all websites will need to be ADA compliant at some point.
“Website accessibility lawsuits have increased over 753% in recent years — from 262 lawsuits in 2016 to 2,235 in 2019.” Source
With ADA lawsuits increasing, it is wise to take steps to protect your business from potential legal action if possible (we outline the steps you should take to protect yourself below).
Do you need to handle this now?
For now you may be able to fly under the radar without complying due to the sheer number of websites that exist. But keep in mind that when ADA accessibility cases are filed, the plaintiffs are winning.
It is a bit of a gamble to assume you won’t be targeted and all signs point to this being something that will be required eventually so you might as well get it out of the way now. You’ll benefit from the peace of mind that your company website doesn’t leave you vulnerable to a lawsuit and you’ll feel good about doing your part to make the internet — which has become a critical part of modern life — more accessible to people with disabilities.
Beyond the potential lawsuits, making your website accessible to people with disabilities is a competitive advantage. About 18% of the population of the United States has a visual or physical impairment. If someone with a disability can navigate your website they’ll be more likely to do business with you and refer your company to other people. Making your website accessible to people with disabilities is like increasing your potential market by a significant margin.
What, exactly, does it mean to make your website ADA compliant?
In most of these cases, a website must be optimized to function correctly with this software. Very few websites work well with it without some optimization. There are usually changes that need to be made to the website so that all its content is consumable. For instance, all website images need a description (called an “alt tag”) so that the text to voice software can communicate the content of the image to the disabled visitor. Without this tag, the software has no way of knowing what the image is.
To make your company website ADA compliant the best practice at the moment is to ensure it complies with the guidelines set by the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). These are the accessibility standards most often referenced in court cases.
There are 3 tiers of accessibility compliance outlined by the WCAG:
- “A” (Beginner)
- “AA” (Intermediate)
- “AAA” (Advanced)
Of course, “AAA” (Advanced) compliance is best but it is time-consuming and, for many businesses, prohibitively expensive. The recommended approach for small businesses is to strive to comply with the “AA” (Intermediate) guidelines. This appears to be the level of compliance that is being expected based on the litigation that has happened so far and should protect you from lawsuits.
How to get your website ADA compliant
Option 1: Do it yourself
If you have the technical know-how to create and edit pages of your website, you probably have the skills needed to optimize your website for compliance.
If you are using a WordPress website, you can install a plugin that takes care of many accessibility issues for you.
You should also add an Accessibility Policy to your website to communicate to visitors that you’re striving for accessibility and give them a mechanism for submitting accessibility feedback so you can resolve any issues they experience.
[We have an article outlining the exact steps you can take.]
Option 2: Hire us to handle it for you
We have created two ADA accessibility solutions:
Solution 1: Full WCAG “AA” Compliance: Thorough but expensive
We will run an audit of your site and create a recommended plan of attack detailing the changes needed and estimated cost to reach “AA” compliance. We’ll work with you and your team to prioritize our efforts to the most critical concerns and we can focus on the main pages of your site.
Due to differences in the size and content of websites, we will need to create a custom proposal. Please contact us using the form at the bottom of the page to begin this process. There’s no obligation to move forward based on our proposal.
Solution 2: Basic accessibility: Fast and low cost – $?
We know that many small organizations are interested in making their websites accessible but may not have the time to research and implement the solutions or the resources to pay someone to help them reach official WCAG “AA” compliance.
With this solution, we’ll take care of:
- Installing and configuring a WordPress accessibility plugin,
- Ensure the tabbing order is properly set up so disabled visitors can access and use the main pages of your website,
- Adding an accessibility policy page to your site.
We aren’t lawyers and you should not take anything we’ve written here as legal advice, but this basic solution should satisfy most disabled visitors. It gives them the ability to navigate and use the majority of content on your site. It also shows you’ve made a sincere effort toward accessibility so it should provide some level of protection from lawsuits.
Option 3: Do nothing
You may choose to wait this out until more small businesses are being affected and the exact accessibility expectations are clarified. While this is a roll of the dice, for the time-being it appears that mostly large businesses are being targeted.
If you are in an industry that is more likely to be targeted by these lawsuits, you may want to go ahead and handle this now:
We know that this is a confusing topic. If you have any questions or want clarification on anything above, don’t hesitate to contact us using the form below — we’re here to help!
Website Accessibility – Level A
1.1.1 Non-text Content – All non-text content that is presented to the user has a text alternative that serves the equivalent purpose, except for the situations listed below.
1.2.1 Audio-only and Video-only (Prerecorded) – For prerecorded audio-only and prerecorded video-only media, the following are true, except when the audio or video is a media alternative for text and is clearly labeled as such.
1.2.2 Captions (Prerecorded) – Captions are provided for all prerecorded audio content in synchronized media, except when the media is a media alternative for text and is clearly labeled as such.
1.2.3 Audio Description or Media Alternative (Prerecorded) – An alternative for time-based media or audio description of the prerecorded video content is provided for synchronized media, except when the media is a media alternative for text and is clearly labeled as such.
1.3.1 Info and Relationships – Information, structure, and relationships conveyed through presentation can be programmatically determined or are available in text.
1.3.2 Meaningful Sequence – When the sequence in which content is presented affects its meaning, a correct reading sequence can be programmatically determined.
1.3.3 Sensory Characteristics – Instructions provided for understanding and operating content do not rely solely on sensory characteristics of components such as shape, color, size, visual location, orientation, or sound.
1.4.1 Use of Color – Color is not used as the only visual means of conveying information, indicating an action, prompting a response, or distinguishing a visual element.
1.4.2 Audio Control – If any audio on a Web page plays automatically for more than 3 seconds, either a mechanism is available to pause or stop the audio, or a mechanism is available to control audio volume independently from the overall system volume level.
2.1.1 Keyboard – All functionality of the content is operable through a keyboard interface without requiring specific timings for individual keystrokes, except where the underlying function requires input that depends on the path of the user’s movement and not just the endpoints.
2.1.2 No Keyboard Trap – If keyboard focus can be moved to a component of the page using a keyboard interface, then focus can be moved away from that component using only a keyboard interface, and, if it requires more than unmodified arrow or tab keys or other standard exit methods, the user is advised of the method for moving focus away.
2.2.1 Timing Adjustable – For each time limit that is set by the content, at least one of the following is true: Turn off: The user is allowed to turn off the time limit before encountering it; or Adjust: The user is allowed to adjust the time limit before encountering it over a wide range that is at least ten times the length of the default setting; or Extend: The user is warned before time expires and given at least 20 seconds to extend the time limit with a simple action (for example, “press the space bar”), and the user is allowed to extend the time limit at least ten times; or Real-time Exception: The time limit is a required part of a real-time event (for example, an auction), and no alternative to the time limit is possible; or Essential Exception: The time limit is essential and extending it would invalidate the activity; or 20 Hour Exception: The time limit is longer than 20 hours.
2.2.2 Pause, Stop, Hide – For moving, blinking, scrolling, or auto-updating information, all of the following are true: Moving, blinking, scrolling: For any moving, blinking or scrolling information that (1) starts automatically, (2) lasts more than five seconds, and (3) is presented in parallel with other content, there is a mechanism for the user to pause, stop, or hide it unless the movement, blinking, or scrolling is part of an activity where it is essential; and Auto-updating: For any auto-updating information that (1) starts automatically and (2) is presented in parallel with other content, there is a mechanism for the user to pause, stop, or hide it or to control the frequency of the update unless the auto-updating is part of an activity where it is essential.
2.3.1 Three Flashes or Below Threshold – Web pages do not contain anything that flashes more than three times in any one second period, or the flash is below the general flash and red flash thresholds.
2.4.1 Bypass Blocks – A mechanism is available to bypass blocks of content that are repeated on multiple Web pages.
2.4.2 Page Titled – Web pages have titles that describe topic or purpose.
2.4.3 Focus Order – If a Web page can be navigated sequentially and the navigation sequences affect meaning or operation, focusable components receive focus in an order that preserves meaning and operability.
2.4.4 Link Purpose (In Context) – The purpose of each link can be determined from the link text alone or from the link text together with its programmatically determined link context, except where the purpose of the link would be ambiguous to users in general.
2.5.1 Pointer Gestures – All functionality that uses multipoint or path-based gestures for operation can be operated with a single pointer without a path-based gesture, unless a multipoint or path-based gesture is essential.
2.5.2 Pointer Cancellation – For functionality that can be operated using a single pointer, at least one of the following is true: No Down-Event: The down-event of the pointer is not used to execute any part of the function; Abort or Undo: Completion of the function is on the up-event, and a mechanism is available to abort the function before completion or to undo the function after completion; Up Reversal: The up-event reverses any outcome of the preceding down-event; Essential: Completing the function on the down-event is essential.
2.5.3 Label in Name – For user interface components with labels that include text or images of text, the name contains the text that is presented visually.