I’ve said it before…it seems like everyone today has a website. Whether you are a stay at home mom blogger, operate an e-commerce boutique shop, a local mechanic shop with a basic website or a full blown tech company – chances are you are no stranger to the internet and websites. Websites are how people find and interact with you or your company. Depending on what your website is designed for, you may have more risks to consider. For example, as I recently discussed, if your website hosts third-party content, there are risks associated with that kind of a website. Similarly, if your website collects email addresses so that you can later market to them, that presents an email marketing risk. This article is going to briefly discuss a new potential risk for website operators – that is compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA).
You might be thinking: “How could a website become an issue with the ADA?” That was my initial reaction too until I considered people who are blind or have a hearing impairment. It’s easy to take for granted senses that we are used to having. Think of all the “closed captioned (cc) for the hearing impaired” text that we have heard/seen on the television in the past. Well, how does that work for those videos that you are making and posting to your website? How do people navigate your website if they can’t see? Until a recent conference I had never even thought about how a visually impaired person accesses the internet. I have since discovered that the visually impaired often access the internet through a special screen reader. JAWS seems to be the most popular and I found a few interesting YouTube videos that give a demonstration of the JAWS program from different perspectives. If you are curious, like I was and want a unique perspective that may help you with your website accessibility, you can see two of the links I found HERE and HERE. The second video is from a student’s perspective which has a lot of good insight – including difficulties with .pdf documents, etc.
The above examples coupled with the legal actions that have been taken against websites in relation to an ADA claim, and the fact that I am starting to see solicitations from Continuing Learning Education companies teaching attorneys how to initiate actions, sends a solid message that this is something people/businesses need to be thinking about as they move forward with their existing websites and/or build out new websites.
THINGS TO KNOW AND UNDERSTAND:
- The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) prohibits discrimination and ensures equal opportunity for persons with disabilities in employments, State and local government services, places of public accommodations, commercial facilities, and transportation.
- These laws can be enforced by the Department of Justice (DOJ) through private lawsuits and indeed there are cases where the DOJ has specifically stated in rulings that websites should be designed so that they are accessible to those who have physical disabilities including vision and hearing.
- The DOJ has already required some websites to modify their sites to comply with the ADA guidelines – see the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0.
- There is no set required standards YET but it’s expected soon and they may require compliance within 12 months from the date of publication of the new standards to the public register. If you have a big website, and perhaps a lot of changes that will need to be made, that isn’t a lot of time.
WHAT IS BEING LOOKED AT FOR COMPLIANCE?
WebAIM.org appears to be a pretty decent resource for information. They have a pretty comprehensive checklist that may assist you and your website developing team out, however, below is a few points for consideration:
Information and user interface components must be presentable to users in ways they can perceive.
- Guideline 1.1: Provide text alternatives for any non-text content so that it can be changed into other forms people need online – think of large print, speech, symbols or simpler language.
- Guideline 1.2: Provide captions and alternatives for multimedia.
- Guideline 1.3: Create content that can be presented in different ways (for example a more simplistic layout) without losing information or structure.
- Guideline 1.4: Make it easier for users to see and hear content including separating foreground from background.
User interface components and navigation must be operable.
- Guideline 2.1: Make all functionality available from a keyboard.
- Guideline 2.2: Provide users enough time to read and use content.
- Guideline 2.3: Do not design content in a way that is known to cause seizures (like flashing content)
- Guideline 2.4: Provide ways to help users navigate, find content, and determine where they are.
Information and the operation of user interface must be understandable.
- Guideline 3.1: Make text content readable and understandable.
- Guideline 3.2: Make web pages appear and operate in predictable ways.
- Guideline 3.3: Help users avoid and correct mistakes.
Content must be robust enough that it can be interpreted reliably by a wide variety of user agents, including assistive technologies.
- Guideline 4.1: Maximize compatibility with current and future user agents, including assistive technologies.
WHAT IF MY WEBSITE ISN’T COMPLIANT?
For websites that aren’t compliant the following are some things you should consider:
- Have a 24/7 telephone number serviced by a live customer service agent who can provide access to the information on the website – the phone number must be identified on the website and be accessible using a screen reader.
- Consider starting to make adjustments to your website to help ensure you are compliant.
NEED HELP ENSURING COMPLIANCE?
It is always a good idea to get a formal legal opinion on these kinds of matters if in doubt. Being proactive is a far better position to be in than being reactive and in a time crunch and money might be tight. If you are in the state of Arizona, and need help with suggestions on how to help make your website ADA compliant or would like to discuss this topic generally so that you have a better understanding of how this issue might impact your business, Beebe Law, PLLC can help! Contact us today.
All information contained in this blog (www.beebelawpllc.blog.com) is meant to be for general informational purposes only and should not be misconstrued as legal advice or relied upon. All legal questions should be directed to a licensed attorney in your jurisdiction.