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ADA Website Compliance Guide: Navigating the Evolving Landscape (2024)

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is widely known but also quite complex, especially concerning websites. Let’s break down what it means for a website to be ADA compliant in simpler terms.

What is ADA Compliance?

ADA compliance is the legal responsibility of certain businesses to be accessible to the disabled, by complying with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (the “ADA”). 

Before websites became widely used around 1995, this meant creating physical accessibility, for example, installing accessible parking spaces and building ramps. But more recently, many courts have agreed that the law requires accessibility on websites, so that commercial websites can be used by blind and visually impaired people, and others with applicable disabilities. 

Here’s a Brief Video Summary of ADA Compliance in 2024

What is the ADA?

The ADA is a landmark civil rights law that prohibits discrimination based on disability.

Think of the ADA as making discrimination against the disabled illegal, much like the Civil Rights Act of 1964 made it illegal to discriminate against other protected classes, like racial and religious minorities. 

The ADA consists of three parts (or in legal language, three “titles”). Title I prohibits discrimination in the workplace. Title II prohibits discrimination by the government. Title III prohibits discrimination by private businesses. Here, we are dealing with Title III. 

What is the ADA Title III?

Simply put, Title III of the ADA prohibits discrimination against the disabled by certain private businesses. Discrimination in this sense does not need to be intentional or willful. A failure to comply with ADA standards is by itself considered discrimination.

Who must comply with Title III of the ADA?

Title III  applies to various types of businesses, including lodging, restaurants, entertainment venues, stores, service establishments, transportation facilities, educational institutions, social service centers, and recreational facilities. There are exceptions, such as religious organizations and private clubs. State laws may differ in terms of damages sought in ADA lawsuits.

Are Websites Covered Under Title III of the ADA?

The DOJ, overseen by the Attorney General, enforces federal law in the United States. It created ADA regulations, making its interpretations highly influential. A letter from the Assistant Attorney General to Congress on September 25, 2018, discusses the DOJ’s stance on the ADA’s application to websites.

ADA compliance DOJ

The letter clearly states: “The Department first articulated its interpretation that the ADA applies to public accommodations’ websites over 20 years ago. This interpretation is consistent with the ADA’s…requirement that the goods, services, privileges, or activities provided by places of public accommodation be equally accessible to people with disabilities.”  

So even though the DOJ has not yet authored specific regulations implementing the ADA for websites (like it has done for physical buildings), its position – like the opinions of many federal judges throughout the country – appears to be that the law does apply to websites operated by places of public accommodation.  

Is there a legal precedent regarding the interpretation of the ADA as it relates to websites?

ADA website compliance cases continue to roll in daily, but let’s look at some well-known examples.  

In Robles v. Domino’s Pizza Inc., the pizza delivery giant was found to be subject to Title III on their website and mobile applications.

Other companies like Netflix, Amazon, and even superstar Beyonce have all spent untold amounts of money on legal fees to deal with digital accessibility lawsuits. 

What If Your Website is Not Accessible / ADA Title III Compliant?

Companies whose websites fail to become compatible with screen reading software and therefore inclusive of the blind and visually impaired and other disabilities, risk being sued at any time, possibly far from their physical locations, without any notice whatsoever.

The law firms who file these cases can choose the jurisdiction in which to file their lawsuit, and not surprisingly, tend to file lawsuits for plaintiffs who live in plaintiff-friendly jurisdictions.

Settlements following a website accessibility demand letter or lawsuit can in general range from $5000 to $20,000, although the amount can change based on the lawyer, plaintiff, and jurisdiction involved. 

This does not include the cost of a business’ own experienced ADA defense lawyer, to negotiate a settlement and defend you, either in court or against a lawyer threatening to sue you.

screenshot-of-demand-letter

Are you an easy target for these lawsuits? If you’ve never heard of ADA compliance lawsuits, or never taken action to make your business website ADA compliant, then the answer is probably “yes.” 

Step by Step: How to Make Your Website Accessible & ADA Compliant

Now that you have a basic understanding of ADA website accessibility, it’s time to get technical.

Digital vs. Physical Space

The “places of public accommodation” listed within the ADA itself are, at first glance, physical places: Theaters, museums, restaurants, etc.

Congress required the DOJ to issue regulations explaining what business owners must do to comply with the ADA. The DOJ issued the Americans with Disabilities Act Accessibility Guidelines (the “ADAAG”), which explains how to comply. 

When a restaurant, theater or other physical business is designed or modified, the architect or contractor builds parking spaces, ramps, bathrooms, counterspace, and other building elements that follow the ADAAG, and therefore comply with the ADA. For example:

ADAAG compliant ramp

Accessible ramp

And an accessible bathroom

accessible bathroom

But the internet is different.

A person who needs a wheelchair can often use the internet just like an able-bodied person does.

A person who needs a wheelchair can often use the internet just like an able-bodied person does.

Just because the ADAAG does not regulate websites, that does not mean that websites are not covered by the ADA. The ADA states as a general rule that:

“No individual shall be discriminated against on the basis of disability in the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations of any place of public accommodation . . .”

Many courts have interpreted these general non-discrimination provisions of the ADA to require that places of public accommodation must have accessible websites. 

Who do you need to make your website accessible for?

Think about how you interact with the internet.

Eyes

You use your eyes to view the screen. People who have visual impairments need assistance accessing your website. These include:

  1. People who are color blind
  2. People who are totally blind
  3. People who have other visual impairments
  4. Tunnel vision
  5. Central loss vision
  6. Low vision

Ears

You use your ears to hear videos and audio. People with auditory impairments need assistance accessing your website. These include people who are hard of hearing.

Hands

You use your fingers to type. People with physical impairments need assistance accessing your website. These include people who are differently-abled and use different devices to type.

Cognition

You use your cognitive processes to understand the information that is displayed on the screen. People with cognitive impairments need assistance accessing your website. These include people who have seizures, ADHD, and other forms of cognitive disabilities

All of these disabilities should be considered to create an inclusive online experience, but by far, the issue that results in almost all ADA lawsuits is accessibility for the blind and visually impaired. 

This includes not only perceiving the screen, but also the functionality of the shopping cart and payment pages. 

WCAG: The Accessibility Standard for ADA compliance

Though not officially the standard (as discussed above, there are no official regulations yet), the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 level AA has been cited by the DOJ, judges, and others, as the web accessibility standard to follow to become ADA compliant.

Unless and until official regulations exist, it seems unlikely that a WCAG 2.0 level AA-compliant site would be found noncompliant with the ADA, which means that such websites are much less likely to be targeted by ADA compliance lawsuits.

What is the WCAG?

The WCAG is a series of guidelines that provide information about web accessibility. 

The guidelines (reaching a staggering 80+ page count) give site owners clear instructions toward making their website accessible to people with disabilities.

Technically, it’s not a legal requirement to follow the WCAG guidelines, but they heavily influence ADA litigation and are often considered to be de facto-compliant with ADA standards. 

A WCAG & ADA Title III Checklist

WCAG’s guidelines can be complicated at first glance. When broken down and put very simply, the requirements are solved by performing a few basic actions.

Let’s take a closer look.

1. Add an accessibility interface to your site

An accessibility interface allows visitors to adjust the website’s design and user interface elements to fit their individual needs or disability. Example use cases of an accessibility interface include: 

  • ADHD-friendly functions: Reduce distractions to allow individuals with neurodevelopmental disorders to ingest website content more easily.   
  • Visually impaired functions: Allow for larger text, contrast, and careful use of colors
  • Cognitive disability functions: Help users with cognitive disabilities like autism and dyslexia to focus and understand essential website elements

2. Add text alternatives to your site

Visually impaired users use screen readers to better understand the content on a site. For screen readers to work on your site, adding text alternatives to non-text elements is important.

This is because images and other media help tell a story on your site. 

For example, some images might explain places and things, display your product, or contribute to your website content’s overall contextualization and understanding. 

Adding alt tags to your images and text transcripts to video files makes those elements easier to understand. 

Clearly labeling your forms and any input fields works hand-in-hand with screen readers. 

women holding bag, 30% discount

For example, the alternative text for the above image should say something along these lines: A woman holding a blue bag with bird and flower patches served as ornaments. The bag is on sale, 30% discount.

3. Make your site easy to navigate

Since not every user who comes to your website has full motor function, it’s essential to evaluate your site’s layout and navigation functionality.

woman with hand disability

Those with motor impairments deserve equal access to navigating the internet, including your website. Certain navigational tools can be implemented to allow for ease of movement. These include: 

  • Using specific keyboard keys like Tab, Shift+Tab, and the Enter keys for specific purposes on the website
  • On-screen keyboard availability for individuals unable to use a computer mouse 
  • Shortcuts such as “M” (menus), “H” (headings), “F” (forms), “B” (buttons), and “G” (graphics) allow users to access
    specific elements of your website more quickly and easily
  • Faster navigation techniques enable users to access any important page with a click

Other steps that you can take to make your site easier to use are:

  • Ensure your navigation menu is consistent across all pages.
  • Use the correct header tags on every page to highlight a content hierarchy and make the content easier to understand overall.

Tools You Can Use to Make Your Website ADA-Compliant

While there are a number of tools you can use to ensure your site complies with ADA requirements, there are two that come highly recommended:

accessibe logoaccessiBe
  • WCAG
  • ADA
  • Section 508

accessiBe one of the quickest and simplest ways to identify accessibility issues on your site, ensuring you’re compliant globally. AccessiBe’s AI analyzes and scans websites using contextual understanding and recognition.

Pros

  • Account managers available to guide you through the product, pricing, and any questions you may have
  • Fast turnaround with a 5 min installation, and 48-hour compliance process
  • 200,000+ clients use accessiBe including legal and government organizations
  • Includes accessibility statement and certification

Cons

  • Built specifically for websites and small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs)- some web apps might not be compatible

Existing Clients

Userway service logoUserWay
  • WCAG
  • ADA
  • Section 508

This automated, AI-powered solution is another firm favorite among businesses of all sizes. Like many other of the top tools, UserWay ensures your site is ADA Title 3, Section 508, and WCAG 2.1 compliant. This tool is also capable of helping you generate an accessibility statement.

Pros

  • Quick and easy process
  • 1M+ website installations
  • Affordable cost & dynamic pricing
  • Multiple solutions and services offered

Cons

  • Does not include mobile apps as of now

Existing Clients

Claim Your Free Website Scan

Learn where your business is vulnerable and what you will need to change to meet ADA Title III regulations. 

If it turns out that your website has accessibility issues, the good news is now you know about them! Our checker also tells you exactly how to fix each problem.

Accessibility Checker

Scan your website for accessibility related issues for free

Summary

Thanks to technological advancements, achieving ADA Title III compliance has never been easier.

Thankfully, your business’s compliance journey will open your business to an entirely new world of users, innovative practices, opportunities, and more, all while protecting you from possible ADA compliance lawsuits. 

So what are you waiting for?

Frequently Asked Questions

To be ADA compliant is the legal responsibility of certain businesses to be accessible to the disabled, by complying with the American Disabilities Act of 1990 (the “ADA”).

Signed into law in 1990 by former President George Bush, the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) has officially been around for over 30 years. The act aims to increase access and opportunities for people living with disabilities across their personal and professional lives.

To apply for ADA protection, you need to prove that you have an impairment that would limit or restrict you from performing day-to-day activities. In terms of job discrimination, employees need to be qualified to perform specific duties or functions to benefit from ADA protection.

 

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