Deep Dive Into Regulations for Digital Accessibility

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ADA

ADA Compliance Guidelines for Websites: A Checklist for Accessibility

According to the ADA, a person with a disability has a physical or mental condition that significantly hinders their daily life skills. Therefore, ADA compliance is essential to providing an equitable world to people with disabilities because it ensures they can participate in our shared society. Yet the ADA requirements don’t refer to every potential situation, including specific language concerning websites. Nonetheless, ADA accessibility guidelines from the government and courts continually help protect people with disabilities to the full extent of the law.

What is ADA and What Does it Impact?

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 constitutes a series of protective measures for individuals with disabilities. This legislation was necessitated by the tendency of numerous businesses to only fulfill the bare minimum standards, coupled with the prevalent attitude among many business proprietors that the expenses associated with ensuring accessibility do not warrant the investment. 

In addition, the ADA protects people with disabilities from discrimination and guarantees them equal opportunity in the public and private sectors.

For example, Title III impacts a business’s customer service practices, which explains why accessibility legislation is commonly called ADA Title III. ADA Title III refers to public regions and public accommodations like schools, eating establishments, hospitality locations, physician facilities, retail outlets, museums, and every employment environment.

What Criteria Do ADA Compliance Standards Cover?

1. Employers must accommodate staff members with disabilities, including accessible entryways, restrooms, and proper office furniture and devices.

2. All business types must enable access to their services for customers with disabilities. In addition, they must provide “reasonable modifications” to their buildings, which accommodate people with disabilities, including:

  • Wheelchair ramps
  • Accessible restrooms
  • American Sign Language explanations
  • Service animal provisions

Businesses must meet these ADA compliance requirements:

  • Ramp access for wheelchairs and other mobility devices
  • Interface mechanisms for visually impaired
  • Interpretive devices for the hearing impaired or qualified interpreters
  • Service animal provisions

What is ADA Website Accessibility?

Physical access elements of the ADA are most familiar to the general public, including wheelchair ramps, smooth crosswalk transitions, and convenient parking spots. However, the law also applies to many overlooked aspects by people without disabilities.

Concerning website disability compliance, ADA legal standards require government and businesses to provide accessible reading alternatives for people with disabilities. Necessary online services must be accessible to everyone, just like a physical door. The law strives to empower all members of society to participate in our digital and physical spaces. Unfortunately, not everyone understands the importance of digital accessibility— especially those who’ve never been denied access because of a disability.

Websites didn’t exist when the ADA became law in 1990, which explains why its original guidelines only describe physical spaces. Subsequently, this focus on physical space has caused much ambiguity on whether the legislation applies to the digital world and to what extent. 

Unfortunately, Congress hasn’t updated or amended the ADA—still, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and federal district and circuit courts have stepped in and interpreted the law inclusively. This lack of clarity has resulted in many businesses and government agencies being found liable for inaccessible websites.

How Did Accessibility Become the New Standard?

For decades, people with disabilities faced frequent discrimination regarding employment, housing, schooling, and other social functions. Historically, they generally didn’t and couldn’t get equitable treatment. So, not surprisingly, disability rights emerged around the same time as the American civil rights movement of the 1960s. These efforts continued into the 1970s when activists pressured Congress to encompass civil rights language for people with disabilities. As a result, The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 was passed, prohibiting discrimination against individuals with disabilities in the federal sector.

It’s also important to note that the National Council on Disability, a crucial federal measure, wasn’t formed until 1981. This group’s policy proposal was the foundation of the ADA, which became law nine years later. Congress still needs to pass an amendment to the ADA. Independent bodies provide and update guidelines, and courts tend to accept these standards, making them close to de facto law.

Accessibility isn’t just a disability rights concern for the DOJ—they also see it as a civil rights issue. Congress enacted the requirements for ADA compliance to ensure people with disabilities are treated equally to everyone else in society. As many ADA guidelines also include terms like discrimination, integration, and segregation, it’s no coincidence that these words are in tandem with the civil rights movement.

Currently, the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), developed by the W3C, is the best standard cited by the U.S. Courts. In addition, other governments and independent accessibility organizations have created global standards that resemble WCAG.

What Are The 5 Titles of The ADA?

Let’s take a brief dip into the five sections of the ADA so you can get a better picture of the law’s intent.

Title I: Employment Law

Title I prevents companies, governments, and unions from discriminating against people with disabilities concerning employment app practices, salary, training, etc. Additionally, Title 1 affects any company with 15+ employees (this includes staffing companies).

Title II: Public Services, State and Local Government:

Title II applies to state and local government entities and public transportation. It ensures that public and government services or programs don’t exclude people with disabilities. One of the essential parts of Title II is the integration mandate, which prevents local and state governments from segregating people with disabilities. The integration mandate extends the prohibition on discrimination established by section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 to all activities of state and local governments regardless of whether they receive federal financial assistance.

Title III: Public Accommodations and Services Operated by Private Entities

Title III applies to privately-run organizations. It requires that spaces within privately-run organizations used for public services be accessible to people with disabilities. This requirement includes locations that fall into numerous ADA classifications, like eating establishments, educational facilities, corporate offices, etc. Additionally, these entities’ services must accommodate people of all abilities.

Even though the accessibility of physical buildings is the most notable result of this title, it’s also been a catalyst for subsequent regulations concerning ADA compliant websites. Many businesses aren’t sure how to make their websites accessible or what level of accessibility is enough—partly because there are so many different types of disabilities.

Title IV: Telecommunications

Title IV targets telephone and television access for people with hearing and speech disabilities. Telephone companies must also provide telecommunications relay services (TRS). These services enable those who rely on teletypewriters (TTYs) to make voice calls. This title also mandates that PSAs with federal funding provide closed captioning.

Title V: Miscellaneous Provisions

Title V covers various ADA elements but primarily forbids retribution against anyone who pursues their ADA rights.

What is the Department of Justice’ update to Title II?

On April 24, 2024, the DOJ published a regulation applying to Title II of the ADA requiring state and local government websites and mobile apps to comply with WCAG 2.1 AA. 

State and local entities covering areas with 50,000 or more people must comply by April 24, 2026, while those with less than 50,000 have until April 26, 2027. 

The rule sets a higher standard than the federal government’s own requirements under Section 508, which mandates WCAG 2.0 AA compliance.

What are the consequences of non-compliance for state and local governments?

If a state or local government doesn’t fully meet WCAG 2.1, Level AA, they might argue that the minor deviation is so insignificant it doesn’t affect access for people with disabilities. However, this does not excuse them from making efforts to comply with the standards. They must prove that any noncompliance does not significantly affect accessibility to avoid violating the rule.

For example, a state’s online renewal form that doesn’t meet WCAG 2.1, Level AA can cause significant problems for users with manual dexterity disabilities, requiring more time and assistance to complete tasks, violating the DOJ’s rule. Conversely, a minor deviation like a slightly lower color contrast ratio on a park information page might not prevent most users with vision disabilities from accessing the content, and the state could argue this does not constitute a violation.

Why Is There A Rise In ADA Compliance Lawsuits?

Website requirements for ADA compliance is a serious matter for any responsible business owner, especially considering the proliferation of related lawsuits in recent years. And, although the ADA does not explicitly call out website requirements, the DOJ has proactively enforced web accessibility laws. Moreover, federal and state courts have ruled that the ADA and related state statutes apply to inaccessible websites.

Why are we seeing more lawsuits related to website accessibility? 

The surge in website accessibility lawsuits is largely due to the increasing necessity of the internet for daily activities, requiring that digital spaces be accessible to people with disabilities. Additionally, the lack of specific regulatory guidelines under the ADA for web accessibility leaves room for legal challenges as organizations struggle to meet varied standards of compliance.

Statistics reveal a dramatic uptick in legal action:

  • Over 4,000 lawsuits in 2021 – 79% against retail/e-commerce.
  • 816 ADA Title III lawsuits in 2017

While there was a decline in ADA Title III lawsuits in federal courts, the count still topped 8,200 for the second straight year. From 2013 to 2021, there was a steady climb in these cases, peaking at a significant 11,452 in 2021. Navigating this evolving landscape requires staying informed on ADA guidelines and proactively making web accessibility a priority.

Navigating ADA Compliance: 7 Key Guidelines and Tips for Your Website

The tips below will help you develop an ADA compatible website.

1. Integrate Keyboard Navigation

People with diminished mobility struggle to navigate websites with a mouse. Keyboard navigation enables users to scan and jump to content that matters most to them.

2. Provide Alt Text for Website Imagery

Alt text provides hearable image descriptions to screen-readers users with visual disabilities. It also helps users who turn off images due to sluggish internet connections. Concise and straightforward alt text can also positively impact SEO results.

3. Provide Appropriate Website Forms

Identify labels clearly and provide visual cues for form fields that show the information end users need to provide. Users who rely on screen readers also must know if their verifying information is valid or invalid—make sure your forms can report successful submissions or point site visitors back to the incorrect field.

4. Modify Timed Variables Accordingly

End users who use keyboard navigation typically need more time to use a website. Therefore, implement measures that stop time-outs from disrupting the end-user experience.

5. Provide Simple Imagery

Web pages crammed with too much visual content are among the most significant pain points for people with disabilities. Provide more open space and optimize color contrast to ensure digestible content for people of all abilities.

6. Audio and Video Alternatives

Provide corresponding transcripts for audio-only content and captions for all video elements. You can also integrate sign language interpretation for people with various hearing disabilities.

7. Remove Elements That May Cause Seizures

It’s best to avoid flashing imagery that may trigger serious episodes for people with epilepsy or similar medical challenges.

Rely on UserWay For Your ADA Compliance Needs

The AI-Powered UserWay Accessibility Widget can help your website comply with the ADA, the WCAG, and all other related standards. This ADA compliance software also ensures all your new content conforms with legal regulations. In addition, meeting the Americans With Disabilities Act guidelines, as defined by the DOJ, can help enhance your online sales. But at its core, accessibility is about opening your website to all end users, regardless of their abilities, because everyone should experience the digital world equally.

Please reach out for more details on the UserWay Accessibility Widget or click the link below to start a free trial.

Answers to Common FAQs

Currently, WCAG 2.1 is the highest standard to follow for web accessibility when it comes to following federal and related state laws applicable to web accessibility. However, ADA Title III compliance is tricky because the law doesn’t specify how to create an accessible website. And even though the DOJ hasn’t applied an official legal ADA standard, it regularly refers to (WCAG) 2.0 AA as the primary objective.

The ADA lacks specific language relating to website disability compliance. But courts increasingly rule that the web must equally accommodate those with disabilities. To that end, American courts now regularly enforce accessibility standards in the digital realm, so making your site ADA-compliant is essential.

Naturally, the increasing use of online retail has played a role in the rise of compliance lawsuits. In addition, people of all abilities now readily use the web to conduct their daily activities, increasing the need for accessibility. Increased awareness from notable cases has also made people with disabilities more educated about their rights and legal options. Moreover, younger and emerging generations are more apt to voice their misgivings concerning discrimination and a lack of accessibility.

Failure to ensure compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) for your digital assets can lead to legal actions, including demand letters, lawsuits and penalties. It can also result in a damaged reputation, loss of potential customers, increased operational costs to retrofit inaccessible assets, and exclusion of people with disabilities from your content or services. To avoid these consequences, it’s important to prioritize ADA compliance, making your digital assets accessible to a broader audience and reducing legal and reputational risks.

To evaluate the accessibility of your website rigorously, start by leveraging automated diagnostic tools for initial checks. Follow up with manual testing leaning on the experience of accessibility experts who will pinpoint potential barriers and provide guidance for legal compliance. Partner accessibility experts who are well-versed in legal matters to conduct comprehensive evaluations and ensure alignment with the WCAG 2.2. Regular audits and ongoing testing will also be important to maintain ADA compliance, providing an inclusive online experience for all users.