ADA Compliance and Your Website

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Strottner Designs, LLC

What do we know about ADA compliance and Websites?

Everyone is familiar with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This Act was passed by the federal government in 1990, to protect people in need of physical accommodations, such as elevators and ramps for wheelchairs, or Braille on ATM buttons. Importantly, ADA compliance prevents discrimination against people with disabilities. The law covers a lot of areas including;

  • state and local government,
  • public and private spaces,
  • employment,
  • building codes,
  • transportation and telecommunication.

It’s why we have parking spots reserved for the disabled, and even counter height requirements…the idea was to eliminate literal access barriers.

What isn’t well known at all, is that ADA compliance now extends to websites. For some, the issue of website ADA compliance only comes up when a business is on the receiving end of an unexpected lawsuit. This sounds counterintuitive, as there is no need for an elevator or a ramp when you are designing a website.  But in 2018, there were over 1,000 lawsuits filed over website accessibility. They were primarily against clothing and apparel stores, telecom companies, restaurants, consumer goods and e-commerce stores. In general, the lawsuits focused on the inaccessibility of websites for people with a visual or hearing disability.

At the moment, company websites are caught in a legal grey area (disclaimer: we aren’t lawyers). According to the Bureau of Internet Accessibility:

In the United States, the DOJ (Department of Justice) is responsible for ensuring that businesses and organizations comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA is a set of laws designed to prevent discrimination against people with disabilities in all areas of public life. Such areas include places of work, educationhealth, and public transport. The DOJ has previously made it clear that the ADA also extends to people’s right to fully access and use the internet and online services.

The problem is that there has been an ongoing delay in the release of federal accessibility guidelines. Companies have been expected to comply with existing technical standards such as the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 until the federal accessibility guidelines are released. With this lack of a federal directive by the DOJ, law firms are actively pursuing suits, resulting in a large spike in the number of web accessibility cases being filed.

This means it’s up to you to look after your own interests, before you become the target of someone looking to take advantage of the lack of clarity in the law. There isn’t a “Pass/Fail” system in place for websites at the moment, so while you can look at a business and see whether or not they have a handicap ramp, for your business site it isn’t as simple. The DOJ has made it clear that legal requirements ARE coming, so getting your site compliant in advance will save you trouble and money down the road.

You Didn’t Bring Up A Problem Without a Solution, Did You?

Good news, no, we didn’t. While there are no definitive laws in place, yet, for making your website ADA compliant, there are some best practices. If you’re already an SEO client of ours, you are on your way to compliance, as SEO and accessibility are somewhat in line with each other. There is additional work required for accessibility, but like SEO, you want your site and content available and viewable on different devices and for different audiences, you want your site logical and easy to use, and of course you want the site technically sound. However, there are also areas where the SEO and accessibility don’t line up very well, and it’s in this ambiguous space that you will want to have the help and guidance of an expert before making changes.

Being ADA compliant will help SEO

There are not many design companies working in this area, but at Strottner Designs we are making it a priority for a number of reasons. We believe it’s in our client’s best interests, we believe that everyone should be able to access our client’s sites without an undue burden, and we believe that this is part of being responsible corporate citizens. As we move forward, we’re going to be adding ADA Compliance to our Concierge Services, and we are currently auditing our existing Concierge client sites to see where they stand. Like SEO, ADA compliance will be an actively managed process, and something that you’ll want to put in the hands of a team focused on it, rather than letting it be something you think about occasionally…or not at all.

If you would like to see how your site is doing, this article from Forbes offers some great guidance, or email me to have us take a look.