Could design defects with your website be leading you on a path toward litigation? This is the fear of thousands of small business owners just like you who are concerned about what kinds of accessibility features they need to be compliant with the ADA. Considering that the original Americans with Disabilities Act was passed in 1990, the World Wide Web was less than a year old when it was authored. That means very little was specified in it in regards to website accessibility, which has led to quite a bit of confusion.
Massive revisions were made in 2008, but it’s still not entirely clear whether or not the ADA fully defines a set of guidelines regarding individual access to certain resources on the web. Regardless of how they were meant to be taken, however, there are at least two titles of the law that deal with the issue of website accessibility. At SiteCompliance, we often get questions about this very issue and pointed those who are concerned about the problem to these two parts of the law.
Perhaps the most relevant portion of the ADA for small business owners that have a website is Title III, which specifies prohibitions against disability-based discrimination for any place of public accommodation. This includes private businesses that are open to the public. While this is normally used to mean things like restaurants and cinemas, it can also theoretically apply to websites as well.
On the other hand, the ADA itself doesn’t ever mention websites and therefore doesn’t provide any sort of outline as to how organizations can ensure compliance with resources they host on the web. Representatives from the Department of Justice have often cited recommendation sheets like those spelled out in the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 document. These are essentially acceptable metrics used to judge accessibility, but they’re not technically legally binding.
There have been a number of lawsuits levied against larger enterprise-level companies that represent popular brands. Almost all of them have dealt with this aspect of the law. The WCAG 2.0 document largely spells out common-sense rules, like providing captions or transcripts for video content. Other good guidelines to follow include limiting color coding and providing alternative high-contrast versions of a site.
Sites that are already designed along these lines, however, shouldn’t have anything to worry about. Ironically, traditional discrete HTML with flowing text is among the most accessible ways to design a site.
ADA rules spelled out in the Title II section of the law prohibit disability-based discrimination from governmental organizations. In most cases, this doesn’t influence choices made by individuals. However, it might be an issue if your company does any kind of design contracting for state or local governments. Federal sites are already designed to meet certain guidelines, so those doing contract work for them shouldn’t have to worry too much since the specifications of the job itself would have had to adhere to these rules.
Regardless of your circumstances, the same guidelines that apply to Title III would apply here as well. There’s no hard and fast law to specify what you can and can’t do, thus the WCAG 2.0 document is used as a general reference.
Keep in mind that if you’re designing your site with performance in mind you may already be meeting or exceeding even the most stringent rules. Simple sites that don’t have much in the way of video or audio content are more likely to pass than complex ones.
Nebulous regulations are often difficult to navigate. When it comes to deciding whether website accessibility is even a real requirement, things aren’t exactly clear. If you want to make sure that you’re free of any potential issues, then contact us online today and learn more about what you can do to ensure compliance with WCAG standards. Our platform can automatically examine your site and flag potential problem areas before someone else does.