The Importance of Website Accessibility: ADA Compliance

Americans Disability Act (ADA), Section 508 (an amendment to the United States Workforce Rehabilitation Act of 1973) and web accessibility are all terms used for making your business more accessible to the handicapped or physically challenged.

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Americans Disability Act (ADA), Section 508 (an amendment to the United States Workforce Rehabilitation Act of 1973) and web accessibility are all terms used for making your business more accessible to the handicapped or physically challenged. These handicaps include, but are not limited to, eye site, color blindness or limited mobility. While most businesses have grown accustomed to offering handicap accessible stairs, restrooms and signage, many have not considered that their website needs to be accessible too. We offer some background information and insights into ADA and website accessibility. 

The ADA was created before there was an internet and requirements to provide access to all disabilities were believed to not apply to all websites. For years, it was thought that if you did not have a brick and mortar business then your website did not need to be ADA compliant. That rule is now changing – all websites will need to be accessible. Implementation, however, is at a slow a place. In 2018, all government sites have been mandated to be ADA compliant for web accessibility, but not all will be ready. 

What is website accessibility? It’s creating a website to accommodate various needs of users. Some users may not be able to use a keyboard. Some may not be able to see the font contrast on a dark background color. Some users may have not have equal comprehension as their peers. The goal is to create a site that everyone can enjoy or be able to interact with. Web standards have been created to make it easier for developers and website owners to create a site that performs the best for accessibility - Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). The 2.0 version is the most recent published in December 2008.

WCAG 2.0 is a list of best practices and techniques that have been proven to work for the majority of handicapped users. Examples from this list includes: informational tags on images (for blind readers), proper page layout for screen readers, color contrast ranges for color blindness, specifics about videos like having a transcript and being subtitled, requirements for PDF documents and even specifications for “how to write your content” so that it is understandable.  Many of these requirements seem reasonable, but most websites today do not follow these simple directions. It’s not necessarily that anyone is lazy or unwilling to build a site according to these standards, it’s simply that it wasn’t required for everyone. Companies have become more aware of these issues as many lawsuits have been filed, warning letters executed and threats to businesses about making their websites ADA/Section 508 compliant.  Most cases, since there are no real rules in the current ADA, are settled out of court or rule in favor of the users.

You may ask: why have ADA, Section 508 or government web accessibility laws not been updated to today's needs? The Department of Justice (DOJ) is trying. The actions of making the new rules has been ongoing for the past number of years and were supposed to be completed by early 2018. They have been delayed multiple times for many reasons and the current administration has put them at a standstill with an executive order based on budgets. It is unclear if the rules will be completed any time soon. So, while there are no rules, lawyers are using this grey area as a way to threaten current website owners into making changes and pay high settlements.

With the fear of a possible lawsuit, website owners and developers are looking for specifics in how to make their sites compliant, for when the rules come out. Based on the direction in the past few years, WCAG 2.0 is the likely the closest example that the DOJ will follow. The European Union has been working toward a common set of rules faster than the United States and the WCAG 2.0 is the direction they have chosen to follow.

As of January 2018, the DOJ has pulled the plug on any movement for website accessibility regulations.  The DOJ’s reason is to review if regulations are “necessary and appropriate.” The lack of regulations will leave website owners, developers and users without any good benchmarks for making their sites accessible to the handicapped. It also leaves the local courts (or District Courts) untethered to any legal standards, which may result in a continuation of the “drive by” lawsuits for ADA compliance.  

We feel that while there are no specific regulations for compliance yet, most of the WCAG 2.0 requirements for accessibility are also good for SEO, website structure and for reaching the highest number of users the easiest. Want to make your site ADA compliant before it's too late? Contact us.

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