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Is Your Business Website ADA Compliant?


May 2, 2016
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Businesses often spend thousands of dollars to create fancy websites with high-tech graphics, streaming video, and scrolling text. However, many fail to consider whether the websites are ADA compliant or accessible to users who have vision, hearing or physical disabilities.

Website accessibility is becoming a hot button issue, with regulators and disability advocates calling for more stringent requirements. For businesses, the lack of clear legal guidance has resulted in litigation, with companies like Target paying millions of dollars to settle class-action lawsuits. Other companies, including H&R Block, have entered into consent decrees with the Department of Justice (DOJ) that require them to make websites ADA compliant for people who have disabilities. 

Businesses often spend thousands of dollars to create fancy websites with high-tech graphics, streaming video, and scrolling text. However, many fail to consider whether the websites are ADA compliant or accessible to users who have vision, hearing or physical disabilities.

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) prohibits discrimination and ensures equal opportunity for persons with disabilities in employment, State and local government services, public accommodations, commercial facilities, and transportation. As early as 1996, the DOJ concluded that the ADA applied to the Internet, stating:

Covered entities under the ADA are required to provide effective communication, regardless of whether they generally communicate through print media, audio media, or computerized media such as the Internet. Covered entities that use the Internet for communications regarding their programs, goods, or services must be prepared to offer those communications through accessible means as well. 

The federal courts, however, have reached differing conclusions regarding the extent to which the ADA applies to websites as well as the standards for determining compliance. To provide greater clarity, the DOJ is currently working on proposed revisions to its regulations implementing the ADA. According to the agency, the amended regulations will

expressly address the obligations of public accommodations to make the websites they use to provide their goods and services to the public accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities under the legal framework established by the ADA. The proposed regulation will also clarify the scope of the obligation to provide accessibility when persons with disabilities attempt to access websites of public accommodations, as well as propose the technical standards necessary to comply with the ADA.

States and local governments are also taking steps to address website accessibility. Most recently, New York City passed a law requiring all government agencies to comply with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, which have become the default standard in the absence of federal regulations. While NYC is the first municipality in the United States to adopt website accessibility regulations, others are likely to follow.

Finally, ADA compliance should not be the only motivation to make your website fully accessible. Ultimately, universal design makes good business sense because it helps ensure that the site will work well for all potential customers.