In this post, we’ll cover ADA requirements for websites, the main causes of ADA compliance lawsuits, and what businesses can do to make their sites ADA compliant.
Do Websites Have to Be ADA Compliant?
In January of 1992, ADA Title III went into effect, requiring “places of public accommodation” to improve accessibility for people with disabilities. At that time, the World Wide Web was just five months old, so the ADA did not specify any regulations for websites as the focus of the statute was accessibility of businesses with physical locations, for example, ensuring they are accessible for wheelchair bound members of the public.
Thus, it is clear that any business with a brick-and-mortar location, even if it doesn’t serve the public, must comply with the ADA guidelines. That includes restaurants, public transportation terminals, gas stations, libraries, and many other types of businesses and establishments. What’s not clear is whether business websites are places of accommodation, and, thus, must also be ADA-compliant as assistive devices for blind individuals, for example, were not on the market at the time the ADA was created. We’ll discuss this point further below.
Do Small Businesses Have to Be ADA Compliant?
Small business owners may not realize that the average settlement for non-compliance can be roughly $6-8,000, and that doesn’t include any state-level fines or attorney fees. Keep in mind that these settlements are for sites after they have become compliant and entered into a remediation plan.
In California, plaintiffs in disability discrimination cases may be entitled to three times the actual damages awarded, as well as a minimum of $4,000 in statutory damages, depending on the severity of the violations and the harm caused to the plaintiff. Even when businesses remediate violations, a civil suit may continue, if prosecutors can show more violations are likely to occur, or that a business has a culture or policy of discrimination that will persist.
Why Is There Confusion About ADA Website Compliance?
For the most part, the federal appellate courts have found that websites must be ADA compliant. For example, in 2019 the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the ADA applies to websites, a decision that has been similarly mirrored in the northeastern states, most notably New York.
In contrast, in April 2021, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals — which covers Alabama, Georgia, and Florida — held that websites are not places of public accommodation. This decision represented the first time a circuit had split from the majority.
While there may be a difference in interpretation between some federal circuits, businesses should not take that difference of opinion to mean they can ignore ADA compliance for their website. Not only does the 11th Circuit decision apply only to those jurisdictions that circuit, there may be state laws that parallel the ADA and which, thus, override it. Further, the decision in the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals could be reversed by a Supreme Court decision if taken up on certiorari , a scenario that is likely to happen in the next term or in the very near future. It is also worth reiterating that making a website accessible is always the right thing to do, regardless of legislation.
Main Causes of ADA Compliance Lawsuits
Lack of accessibility features
Poor website functionality
What’s the Relationship Between ADA Laws and WCAG? Compliance?
In addition to the ADA, federal agencies must be aware of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Section 508, which defines accessibility requirements for federal agencies, and section 504, which defines how federal agencies must accommodate users with disabilities, are both based on the standards included in the WCAG.
Unlike the ADA guidelines, which have never been expanded to include guidance about websites, WCAG is an ever-evolving set of best practices. A working draft of WCAG 3.0 was released in 2021 and is expected to be finalized in a few years.
How to Make Your Website ADA-Compliant
- Include alternatives for visual content — Any type of visual content should be accessible in a different way. For example, video clips and animation should have audio tracks that describe what action is occurring.
- Optimize images — Users may need to zoom-in on images or graphics to see them, so images should be formatted to display well when enlarged.
- Improve contrast — To ensure that users with low vision can read fonts that overlay a background or image, WCAG recommends a contrast ratio of at least 4.5:1.
- Ensure content is compatible with Braille keyboards — Users who are blind and deaf can access web content only with a refreshable Braille keyboard.
- Provide captions — Users should be able to turn on captions for videos that also explain any sounds.
- Add ASL for complex videos or topics — An inset video of an American Sign Language interpreter is preferable to overly long or complicated captions.
- Include transcripts — Audio-only files should have accompanying transcripts.
- Use visual and audible notifications — Sound effects and notifications should be accompanied by visual indicators.
- Ensure the site can be navigated by keyboard — Users who can’t use a mouse to scroll or select tabs should be able to move through a website using only their keyboard.
- Increase the size of clickable areas — The WCAG specifies that clickable areas need to be 44 x 44 CSS pixels, with a few exceptions.
- Make navigation controls consistent — Navigation should be consistent throughout a site (and this is another one of the rules that creates a better experience for all users).
- Configure forms to accept voice input — Users may find it easier to complete forms if they can speak the requested information.
- Avoid large blocks of text — Break text into smaller sections and use images, colors, and white space to define separate sections.
- Use plain language and short sentences — The WCAG recommends the use of literal language, simple tense, and active voice. Keep sentences short, and avoid complex clauses.
- Don’t use time limits — People with cognitive disabilities may need more time to read a piece of content or complete a form, and they may be frustrated when content or a form ‘times-out’. Either disable timers or allow users to manually request more time by clicking a button.
- Make navigation predictable — Don’t confuse users with navigation that’s inconsistent or illogical.
Check Whether Your Website is ADA Compliant
There are tools available that can scan a website and detect accessibility errors; however, the results of those scans might not show the complete picture. Generally, a combination of technology and human judgment is the best way to review a site’s accessibility.
Monsido offers a free website compliance scan that reveals how your website stacks up against WCAG criteria that are often referred to in ADA website accessibility disputes. What’s more, the Monsido platform can help you prioritize the errors that will have the biggest impact and document your progress towards a more accessible website experience. If you have been sued and are preparing a remediation plan, it is a requirement that you purchase a software similar to Monsido in order to get the case dismissed or a settlement agreement in place.
Yes — and civil litigation regarding website accessibility is on the rise. If your site is not compliant, you should expect to be sued and to pay a settlement.
A WCAG 2.0 or above compliance scan, coupled with an expert review of the findings and human review of the website, is the best way to check a website for ADA compliance.
Once a business has been notified of ADA website compliance violations, the inaccessible website, feature, or technology must be remediated immediately and a remediation plan entered into. You should also be prepared to either pay a settlement and enter into a settlement and remediation plan or fight for a dismissal based in court backed by a remediation plan. Be advised that any continued violations or failures to keep the site compliant after dismissal or settlement can expose the company to triple damages and relitigation.