Website compliance has taken the spotlight lately with an increasing amount of lawsuits being filed in regards to accessibility for people with disabilities. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a comprehensive civil rights law that was enacted to protect individuals with disabilities from discrimination. Website accessibility has become integral in our daily lives and this is equally true for people with disabilities.
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The law has a wide scope. It applies to:
- State and local governments,
- Public and private spaces,
- Building code,
Like the ADA requirements for disabled parking, service counter height, and wheelchair ramp mandates in building codes, websites are required by the The Department of Justice (DOJ) to be perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust.
The US Attorney General has responsibility for publishing regulations for current ADA regulations. The DOJ has ruled that websites should use the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) as a guideline for accessibility. There are three levels of conformance with WCAG A, WCAG AA, WCAG AAA and Section 508.
Level A makes it easier for browser readers to navigate and translate the site. While this level is an improvement for many sites, it doesn’t make them as accessible as the DOJ would prefer.
Level AA makes sites accessible to people with a wider range of disabilities, including the most common usage barriers to use. Most businesses should be aiming for Level AA conformity since it appears to reflect the level of accessibility the DOJ expects. This level is closest to the standards in Section 508, though WCAG documentation is more specific and more clearly defined than what’s included in Section 508. Section 508 is limited to those in the public sector and typically doesn’t apply to the private sector unless a government contract requires it.
Level AAA is the most demanding level of accessibility compliance, and it will significantly affect the design of the site. However, it also makes a website accessible to the widest range of people with disabilities.
The Orlando Sentinel reported that “Miami resident Juan Carlos Gil, who is legally blind, has filed nearly 200 lawsuits in Florida and across the country accusing government agencies, restaurants and stores of violating the ADA by not taking steps to ensure that documents on their websites can be accessed by anyone’s personal computers. Gil filed a lawsuit against Winn-Dixie, claiming that features on the store’s website — such as refilling prescriptions and accessing coupons — weren’t compatible with computer programs he relied on to use the internet. In June 2017, a federal judge ruled in favor of Gil, saying that Winn-Dixie violated the ADA and ordered the grocery chain to modify its website to come into compliance”.
The courts are split on whether privately run website are “places of public accommodation” and whether operators must comply with the ADA. The DOJ has done very little to provide guidance and clarity about website accessibility, however, they did have one statement in September of 2018 that is definite, “The Department has consistently taken the position that the absence of a specific regulation does not serve as a basis for noncompliance with a statute’s requirements”.
While it is impossible to be compliant right away, the outcomes from court cases show that there are a few things you can do to protect you and your organization. You must first show the court that you are aware of the guidelines. You can accomplish this by making a declaration on your site stating that you are working to provide an ADA compliant website.
Next, assign responsibility for website compliance to a person or department within your organization. This isn’t a one-time review of your website for two reasons. The first is that as content is added to the website by varying departments, new content may not be following ADA regulations. Secondly, as website plugins and WCAG requirements are updated new scans must be performed to ensure that compliance is maintained. Therefore, it is important to perform reviews of the site on an ongoing basis.
Lastly, ensure that newly created pages conform to ADA guidelines. If you make a commitment to accommodate people with disabilities, then newly created pages on your website must be compliant. If they are not it shows that you are not taking your commitment to progress toward a fully compliant site seriously.
We at Advanced Systems Solutions can assist you through the murky waters of website compliance. If you’re looking for a support company to help you improve your ADA compliance stance, with unmatched customer service, please contact us. We love to help!
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Disclaimer: The above information is not intended as technical advice. Additional facts or future developments may affect subjects contained herein. Seek the advice of an IT Professional before acting or relying on any information in this communiqué.