An increasing number of businesses are being required to make their websites and online presence accessible to people of all abilities—just like their physical locations are required to be—under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. Because the law was created before modern websites existed, interpreting how the rules apply to websites can be hard to do. It’s not even clear which kinds of companies absolutely must have ADA compliant websites, and which ones simply should so they can better serve their customers.
We wrote this guide to help you know:
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was introduced in 1990 to help the nearly 50 million Americans who live with a disability have access to "public and private places that are open to the general public." It’s why places like stores and offices have handicapped accessible parking, ramps, bathrooms and more.
People with disabilities don’t only do business at brick and mortar buildings—they also use websites to shop, bank, learn and work. That’s why accessibility guidelines apply to websites.
Business owners trust their architects and contractors to take the accessibility codes into account when they’re drawing up the initial plans. But not many people factor ADA compliance into their website architecture and design, which can become a problem for them down the road.
Companies and organizations can be penalized with fines or even lawsuits for non-compliance. According to ADA.gov, businesses and organizations could also be subject to a fine up to $75,000 for a first violation and up to $150,000 for subsequent violations.
In 2018 alone, 2,285 ADA website lawsuits were filed by people with disabilities—many targeting small business owners—citing that websites did not provide them with reasonable accommodations. Lawsuits can be settled for a few thousand dollars to $20,000—or can cost business owners exponentially more if they choose to fight in court.
Large, national companies like The Home Depot, Dominos, and Bed Bath & Beyond, as well as small businesses like Island Comfort Footwear in Florida, have been sued for not providing reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities.
In addition to the risk of legal fees and government fines, a website that is not easily accessible by people with disabilities can cost your company in other ways:
1. You risk bad press as your business may not be seen as caring and inclusive of people with disabilities.
2. You lose the potential business of people who cannot access your website.
3. You risk search engine optimization losses if Google decides to penalize non-accessible websites with lower ranking search results
The goal of ADA Compliance is fairness and to make the Web inclusive to people of all abilities—just like brick-and-mortar establishments that also comply with the ADA.
While there are no clear federal guidelines on what online accommodations are “reasonable,” there is a set of guidelines that businesses are urged to follow to be considered ADA compliant: the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). Created by the W3C Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI), the WCAG 2.0 are standards that ensure that people with disabilities can navigate their websites.
To create a WCAG 2.0 compliant website, your website needs to be accessible for people with special needs such as:
WCAG 2.0 Compliance comes in three levels (less compliant to more compliant, or easiest to hardest):
It’s important to note that WCAG AAA compliance relates 100% with Section 508, which severely impacts design, performance, look and feel of a website. The Department of Justice (DOJ) has admitted that 508 compliance (AAA) is not practical, which is why A and AA are the acceptable standards.
The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) breaks A and AA WCAG compliance down into the following four categories:
When you decide that website ADA compliance matters for your company, you will need to take many factors into account so your website meets WCAG 2.0 standards. It’s not enough to just install a widget. Everything from the way your files and online assets are named to the way your website architecture is coded plays a part in ADA compliance.
Our ADA compliance experts assess the level of compliance on your website by considering these factors:
After Webstix ADA compliance experts audit your website, we’ll give you a report of all ADA compliance issues we find as well as our recommended fixes. We’ll also provide an estimate of the work it would take to bring your website up to WCAG 2.0 standards.
Remember, it will be up to you to continue following these standards to keep your website ADA compliant.
When you make your website ADA compliant, you will reach a greater number of customers who previously could not access your website to receive the services and products you provide. You will avoid costly litigation and fines. And above all, you will communicate that your company values all your customers, regardless of their ability.
A website compliance report from Webstix is a simple and free first step to ensure that your company is as inclusive and accessible on the Web as it is in person.
Making your website appeal to more people gets you more traffic. Google measures nearly everything about websites and they're trying to sort out each website and rank them, so why wouldn't a website that's more accessible rank better? Google has already come out and said details like page speed and being secure (SSL) help websites rank better. They've come out with other, such boost factors before, too. Why wouldn't Google be looking at this now? You can bet it's on their list and it's just a matter of time before they announce every website needs to be ADA compliant. It only makes sense and we suspect they're taking this into consideration already, so this is a HUGE opportunity to get ahead of your competition now. A website that's easier to use will just naturally rise to the top and that's the main thing ADA website compliance does. Your website will be following WGAC guidelines, which will allow everyone to navigation your website more easily. This kind of website setup will also lead to more conversions and sales.
Having an ADA compliance website just shows your customers that you care because you want your website to be more accessible. Whether people need this level of accessibility or not, they probably know someone who does, so taking this step gives you loads of goodwill and favor. Once your website is ADA compliant, brag about it. We can put a badge on your website showing it's ADA compliant and this is something you can certainly post on social media regularly.
Your website might look nice and be easy to use but it's possible you could receive a threatening letter from a lawyer with an ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) claim against your company/website. They might try to say that if your website is connected with a physical (retail) location, then ADA applies. If your company/organization does work in an industry where you need to be absolutely sure you're ADA compliant at your physical location, then it might be a good idea to make sure your website is also ADA compliant. By doing it now, you an avoid penalties and legal action.
Title III of the ADA mandates that all “places of public accommodation” are required by law to remove all “access barriers” that might inhibit someone with disabilities from accessing the goods or services of the business. We're not lawyers, so if you're concerned about this, you should seek legal counsel regarding this issue. There is a safe harbor clause that protects your content as it is if it was published before January 18, 2018 but if you alter any content after that date (which has passed already), then you could be liable for making sure that content is ADA compliant. This is a clear sign that mandatory ADA compliance IS coming eventually.
As a side note, all government websites have set level AA of ADA compliance as their accessibility standard.
Only clients that request that their website is ADA Compliance website will end up with websites that are compliant when delivered. This extra work must be itemized in their project proposal. Just because we created a website does not mean it's automatically ADA Compliance website. We must also agree on which level of ADA Compliance Website they wish to achieve. If you need this done with your website redesign project, please do let us know.
Webstix will use the following validation tools for the ADA Compliance:
NOTE: Webstix will use these tools to verify ADA compliance. However, if you have a preference
for a different verification tool, please let us know.