The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life. This goes for schools, workplaces, transportation services, and other spaces open to the general public. The law is meant to ensure those with disabilities have the same basic rights as everyone else. Title IV of the law extends to telecommunications and requires all phone and internet companies to provide accommodations for those with hearing and/or speech disabilities to communicate via telephone. The law also extends to website owners, as Title III is interpreted to include websites as “places of public accommodation.” This means that any website with significant components that are inaccessible to those with disabilities can be considered discriminatory.
The ADA is a strict liability law, which means that there are no excuses allowed for web developers who fall into violation. It can also seem a bit confusing how to avoid violations, as there is currently no legal prescription for website accessibility. There are, however, some web accessibility guides that provide standards that can make ensuring accessibility easier for site runners. It’s also possible to seek consulting services for ADA website compliance.
The WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) 2.0 is widely considered the best checklist for ensuring your website is accessible to those with disabilities as courts see it. If your site can adhere to each of the 38 requirements on this list, you should be in good shape and hopefully avoid any lawsuits or demands from lawyers. The requirements are quite lengthy, but their characteristics can generally be broken down into four categories.
Perceivable: Websites should provide text alternatives for any non-text content that may be difficult for those with disabilities to perceive. They should also create content that can be expressed in multiple ways without losing its meaning. Content should also be made as easy as possible for users to see by clearly separating content in the foreground and background.
Operable: All website functionalities should be performable with a keyboard alone. Users should always have adequate time to absorb content. Content should not be created in ways known to cause seizures. Sites should be equipped with ways to help all users navigate to the desired content.
Understandable: Web pages should appear and behave in predictable ways, and all text content should be easily readable. There should also be ways to help users avoid and correct any mistakes made on sites.
Robust: All sites should be consistently updated to be compatible with assistive technologies and any other relevant equipment.
As may be gathered from this summary, many find the WCAG to be difficult to understand, but thankfully, you don’t necessarily have to comply with every item on the checklist for your site to be considered accessible.
Website Accessibility Standards (WAS)
You have some flexibility when it comes to making your website accessible, and that’s where the simplified Website Accessibility Standards document comes into play. This is a much easier to follow checklist of items that can help ensure you’re compliant with accessibility standards. One of the main takeaways is that you simply need to provide alternative sources for all content you provide (alternative text, closed captioning, transcripts, audio files, etc.).
Depending on how large your site is, it’s also important to note that there is a separate set of legal best practices for website compliance as well. This means that you may wish to hire an independent consultant as well as appoint an accessibility coordinator for your site. Offering additional training for employees and hosting a separate webpage explaining your accessibility policies may be a good move if you’re expecting high volumes of traffic.