The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 has been a landmark for the disability rights movement in the United States. By prohibiting discrimination on the basis of disability across many aspects of public life, the ADA has enabled millions of people with disabilities to participate more fully in employment, government, transportation, and commerce.
Yet, the world looks very different since the ADA’s passage nearly three decades ago. This is due in no small part due to the spread of electronic and information technology such as computers, smartphones, and the internet.
Although the ADA does not explicitly address website accessibility, there is a growing body of case law indicating that the ADA’s requirements should in both the physical and online worlds. For this reason, companies and organizations to which the ADA applies must bring their websites into compliance with accessibility standards such as the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).
ADA Title II and Web Accessibility
Title II of the ADA addresses questions of accessibility as they pertain to state and local governments. Any services, programs, and activities offered by state and local governments must not discriminate on the basis of disability. This provision covers actions such as applying for a business license, attending a public university, paying traffic tickets, and registering to vote.
Despite an all-too-common misconception that many people with disabilities don’t use the internet, digital access can often be a preferred method of conducting affairs. If state and local governments offer online services and activities such as those above, their websites must be accessible to avoid denying online opportunities to people with disabilities.
ADA Title III and Web Accessibility
Title III of the ADA addresses questions of accessibility in “places of public accommodation.” These are defined as businesses that are open to the general public and that fall under one of 12 categories, such as restaurants, schools, museums, doctors’ offices, and movie theaters.
Like Title II of the ADA, Title III is generally considered to extend beyond the physical location of a business into cyberspace. This is designed to ensure that people with disabilities receive equal treatment not only at the hands of government, but also from private businesses, as they can have a major impact on quality of life.
Using WCAG Compliance to Avoid Lawsuits
Recent years have seen a dramatic growth in the number of ADA lawsuits involving web accessibility issues — and growth in the number of such lawsuits resolved in the plaintiff’s favor.
In 2017, plaintiffs filed at least 814 federal lawsuits alleging that the website of a business or organization was insufficiently accessible to people with disabilities. As the legal precedents for web accessibility continue to mount, organizations need to take proactive steps to protect themselves from potentially costly and time-consuming lawsuits.
The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) are the most popular and widely-used web accessibility standards, and these help to address common issues for people with vision, hearing, motor, cognitive, and others disabilities. WCAG contains recommendations for three levels of accessibility, separated into four principles of accessibility: perceivability, operability, understandability, and robustness.
With the recent June release of the enhanced WCAG 2.1 guidelines, there’s never been a better time to start bringing your website into compliance and defend yourself in the event that you receive an ADA complaint letter.
Is your website accessible?
Making your website accessible under the ADA will entail following popular, well-defined standards such as the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines — and you don’t have to go it alone.
Start with a free and confidential website scan on our powerful a11y® platform. And when you’re ready, we can talk about all our options to help you reach your digital accessibility goals.