Website Accessibility: What You Need to Know

Are those with disabilities able to get all the benefit of your site as can those who are fully-abled? A review of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA, a federal regulation) appears it would apply to publicly accessible websites as much as it does access to a building. For most contractors, the relevance is a logical digital extension of Title III of the ADA:

Title III prohibits disability-based discrimination for “places of public accommodations” including private businesses that are open to the public, such as restaurants, hotels, movie theaters, museums, and doctor’s offices. The U.S. Department of Justice has consistently recognized that a company website falls under its business operations.

No ADA Standards for Websites Established to Date

When it comes to buildings, the ADA very clearly defines what is required in order to be compliant. When it comes to websites, however, the ADA offers no guidance. Standards for websites have been proposed but, to date, none have been adopted as ADA requirements. When sought for ADA clarification regarding websites, the U. S. Department of Justice has pointed to recommendations such as Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 developed by the WC3 Web Accessibility Initiative as acceptable criteria.

Discrimination Lawsuits have been Filed Despite the Absence of ADA Standards

The lack of ADA standards for websites has created a legal wild west of sorts where claims of discrimination under the ADA are subject to each judge’s interpretation of the current situation. The absence of ADA standards for website accessibility affects both the evaluation of claims and the ability to defend against them. Not surprisingly, many of these lawsuits involve large companies with deep pockets who are more likely to settle out of court given the murky waters. 

Other Early Opportunists

Lawyers and their clients are not the only ones pushing ahead with or without standards. Entrepreneurs have developed ‘website checkers’ and some marketers are contacting companies claiming their website is not ADA compliant, presumably to instill fear in hopes of acquiring new customers. We believe that education goes a long way to understanding the current situation and true extent of your risk.

Putting Forth a Good Faith Effort

Online-Access is actively watching for ADA standards to eventually be announced. We will let our customers know if and when anything changes. Meanwhile, we have reviewed the WCAG recommendations and have already been making and planning needed adaptations. For some time, things like font size and contrast have been controllable by a user through their browser settings, so it will be interesting to see where responsibility for a user’s experience falls on such criteria.

If interested, there is a free widget called USERWAY that links to your homepage and offers a menu of accessibility options the user can tweak to meet their needs.

This widget works without making changes to your website’s existing code. The options are both visual and audible, with a text reader and three reading speed options. Please note that, again, there is no guarantee this widget will protect you from legal action since nothing has been legally defined. What it can do is demonstrate that you are making a good faith effort to accommodate those with disabilities. If you are interested in adding the USERWAY accessibility menu to your PagePilot website, please let us know.

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