ADA stands for the Americans with Disabilities Act, and it is the law of the land since 1990. Title III (private sector businesses) of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in places of public accommodation. It applies to any business that has 15 or more employees. While Title III of the ADA is typically known for its applicability to offline barriers such as lack of wheelchair access, acceptance of service animals, effective communication for hearing and vision impaired individuals, its focus in the digital age has turned to websites and online media.
In January 2017, the U.S. Access Board approved a final rule to update Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. The new rule adopts guidelines that provide testable WCAG 2.0 success criteria, and requires adherence to the new standards twelve months from its date of publication in the federal register (January 18, 2017).
Starting January 18, 2018, that 12-month clock runs out and to be ADA compliant you need to have your website compliant with WCAG 2.0 A/AA standards. All federal websites must meet compliance on all items in WCAG 2.0 AA by this time. This is not entirely a new requirement as the Department of Justice (DOJ), which enforces the ADA, issued preliminary rules back in 2010. However, the DOJ is now expected to enforce updates to Section 508 that were approved back in January 2017. Please note that WCAG 2.0 AA guidelines are endorsed by DOJ and these guidelines combined with Section 508 Standards are now recognized as the baseline requirements for website accessibility and expected to be used by the DOJ as a benchmark in settling website accessibility matters.
Since 2010, Title III claims continue to increase every year with over 6,000 complaints in 2015 alone. With new regulations taking effect, it is expected that litigation claims by individuals and advocacy groups will rise significantly. As such, it is critical that businesses should ensure ADA compliance going forward.
The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) are part of a series of web accessibility guidelines published by the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), the main international standards organization for the Internet. The current version, WCAG 2.0, was published in December 2008 and has been adopted by the U.S. Access Board to update Section 508 guidelines.
While Title III of the ADA applies to businesses with more than 15 employees, it is a good idea to be proactive and become compliant. In addition, the general consensus is that any business considered a “public accommodation” should have an ADA compliant website. Given that “public accommodation” definition is subjected to interpretation, it is important for a business to do the right thing and become compliant.
The first step would be to review ADA compliance requirements and document how your current website measures up. You can run free test by visiting WAVE Web Accessibility Tool Website to see if you have errors regarding website accessibility. This is an online report that will show errors and alerts, and some of them you must test manually to confirm if they are an actual error or not. For example, if it shows an issue with all posted PDFs, you would have to check each PDF individually to see if it is indeed non-compliant.
Once you have identified issues that you need to resolve, you need to evaluate if this is something your internal staff can fix by updating content or you need to get your website developer/vendor involved. Regardless how to approach this phase, your objective should be to comply with all 61 guidelines laid out in WCAG 2.0 to become either AA or AAA level compliant.
In addition, it is important to understand that ADA compliance is not a one-time activity. If you are constantly producing new content and updating your website, you must address ADA compliance issues on a regular basis. More often than not, it is much easier if your business has adopted an accessibility policy. Training your staff is also critical. Without ongoing training, your business is going to be reactive in dealing with compliance issues.
Don’t ignore the fact that website ADA compliance is a requirement for your website. It is the new normal, so make it part of your website management process. Regularly train your staff responsible for website management and schedule regular reviews to ensure that your website remains complaint. It is a challenge that is much easier to overcome when it becomes just the way of doing business every day.
As a web design agency, we work with businesses to help them become compliant. From website updates to staff training, we can provide a one-stop solution for your ADA compliance needs.