Author’s Note: This post covers laws about ADA compliance on websites but it is not written by a lawyer and should not be used as legal advice. Please speak with a lawyer if you need legal advice.
Since 1990, small businesses around the U.S. have invested in making their physical locations more accessible for people with disabilities. This is why we have handicap parking spots, ramps, and automatic door openers.
A new strain of lawsuits, however, has opened up the eyes of the Richmond small business community to a new type of ADA-compliance. Many companies are worried about what it could mean for them.
Does ADA Compliance Apply to Websites?
In the physical world, it is a bit easier to understand what ADA-compliance looks like. Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act “prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in the activities of places of public accommodations.” This means that businesses need to do what they can to minimize barriers to entry for disabled individuals who wish to enjoy their product or service.
Because the ADA was enacted in the infancy of the web, there is no aspect of the law that officially pertains to the internet, but there are many people who have visual, hearing, and motor impairments that make it difficult for them to use websites that weren’t made specifically for them.
This raises the question of whether the “places of public accomodations” in Title III should be extended to apply to business websites. If a business that has a handicap ramp at the front door of their office also has a website that acts as the online equivalent of a front door, should that virtual “front door” also get a virtual “handicap ramp?”
To further muddy the waters, the Department of Justice has, as of 2019, passed down no official ruling on whether websites are under the same obligations as physical locations. According to a Virginia law firm, Williams Mullen, “the Department of Justice (DOJ) formally withdrew its notice of proposed rulemaking regarding accessibility of web information.” This was despite giving a notice of proposed ruling in 2008 showing that they were moving towards making website ADA compliance a legal requirement.
All of this ambiguity on the subject only adds to the concern of small businesses throughout Virginia who are often facing $15,000 to $25,000 in settlements from lawyers of disabled people if their website is not in compliance. Lawsuits pertaining to website accessibility have been on the rise recently. 2018’s lawsuits nearly tripled 2017 figures.
What Does ADA Compliance Mean for Websites?
Despite the lack of clear guidelines from the Department of Justice, there are some guidelines from World Wide Web Consortium, the internet’s authority on web development best practices, that are widely accepted. While there is some extensive documentation on the subject, we recommend focusing on these areas:
- Screen reader compatibility
- Captioning for videos
- Compatibility with keyboard-only navigation
Screen Reader Compatibility
Reading a website is difficult for people with sight impairments. Some of these sight impairments require increased contrast between text and its background. Some require the absence of seizure-inducing visuals. For anyone mostly or entirely blind, being able to access content through tools called screen readers that read everything on the website is crucial.
While reading off the text that is on screen sounds straightforward enough, the pictures can be a bit challenging. This is where what is known as alt text is necessary.
Alt text is the text that appears as an alternative to displaying the picture. It is meant to be interchangeable with actually viewing the image. Screen readers rely on reading off the alt text to tell the user what is in the photo.
With today’s technology, machine learning is still in its infantile stage of guessing what is in a given image. This means that unless a human specifically fills out the alt text for the image by looking at and describing what is in a picture, there is no way for a computer to know what is being shown visually.
Captioning for Videos
If your website includes a video, it should have captions to go along with the audio. This is for the deaf people who wouldn’t be able to hear the audio otherwise. There are many resources on the web for automatically adding captions to your videos. Some of them cost little to no money but can have poor quality results. It helps to play through the finished video afterwards to make sure that you are getting the best results for your deaf users.
Compatibility With Keyboard-Only Navigation
Some users have disabilities that make it hard for them to use a mouse. For these individuals, being able to navigate the whole site using buttons on their keyboard is essential to experiencing your business’s website the same way your other users do. A website that is compatible with this type of navigation should allow the user to move from link to link on using only the tab key.
How Key Web Can Help With Your Website’s Accessibility
Key Web Concepts, as a custom WordPress web design agency in Richmond, VA, has built many websites over the years. Although very few clients ask that their websites be ADA compliant, the recent increase in lawsuits and mandates at the municipal level have many clients starting to realize that incorporating ADA compliance into their new or existing websites is necessary to protect themselves from potential legal action.
We also have a focus on search engine optimization, which is how we optimize your website to be easier to find in Google, Yahoo, and Bing. Some of the web accessibility standards are already a part of our monthly SEO plans because the goals of SEO and accessibility overlap. Adding alt text to images, for example, is something that we include because, along with helping screen readers, it also helps Google to understand what is being shown visually on the page.
Don’t Panic. Talk to Us.
If you have any concerns or questions about your business’s website ADA compliance, give Key Web Concepts a call. The future of website ADA compliance will probably include more lawsuits and/or stricter legislation. We can help you rest easy by staying ahead of the curve.