It’s not just your facility and job accommodations that need to be aligned with the rules in the Americans with Disability Act (ADA). Many businesses aren’t aware that their website needs to be compliant as well.
The central purpose of the ADA is to ensure people with disabilities are able to participate fully in American life, and the reality is that much of American life now occurs on the Internet. The ADA was enacted in 1990, which was prior to the Internet becoming as ubiquitous as it is today. Because of that, the exact language of the law doesn’t specifically articulate website accessibility standards, but Title II of the Act refers to “places of public accommodations.” The act states such places cannot exclude people who have disabilities from being able to benefits what is offered to everyone else in public accommodations. Websites are technically a public place, and the law actually views it as real estate.
If your company has a website, you are obligated to comply regardless of the size of the business or number of employees. In particular, Title II of the ADA as it refers to websites protects the freedoms of the visually or hearing impaired as well as anyone who has a disability preventing them from being able to access information on the Internet.
How Did I Miss This?
If you weren’t aware of this requirement until now, you are definitely not alone. Until recently this particular requirement of the ADA hasn’t been a primary focus as far as enforcement is concerned, but now it is. There’s been an increase in the number of court cases against websites that have not made necessary updates. The case with the most notoriety in this area is the Winn-Dixie case. Violations of the ADA provisions ended up costing the company $250,000. Failure to ensure your company’s website is ADA compliant exposes you to potential litigation, which can end in hefty fines and penalties. Penalties can be as high as $75,000 per instance.
What Do I Need to Do?
Review all the materials, services and information on your website and ensure they are accessible to everyone. Here are a few steps you need to discuss with your web designer to ensure your website is compliant:
- Text must be written and positioned on each page in a way that someone who has impaired vision can access through a reading device to convert the text to audio.
- Any video content has to have closed-caption subtitles to accommodate someone with hearing impairment. They need to be able to read along as they watch the video images.
- Any job openings on your website need to be readable, and the application must be structured so that someone with a disability is able to full it out and complete it. You also need to ensure documents on your website are downloaded in all different formats. PDFs have practical uses, but not everyone is able to open them.
You even need to be careful about the color schemes and fonts you choose for your website design. People with vision disabilities like low vision, farsightedness or color blindness may not be able to see your website in the same way you can.
Also, if you are able, it is in your best interests to ensure the content and materials on your website are available in multiple languages. Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act states patients or potential patients that have limited English proficiency need to be able to access essential information. You can review Section 1557 more deeply to see if it applies in your situation.
Independent of legal issues, having an accessible website is just the right thing to do. Having a disability should not preclude anyone from obtaining the information they need. It’s also profitable to make your website compliant. Prospective customers use your website to learn about your services and who you are as a company. You can’t assume everyone experiences your website in the same way. The key to developing an acceptable website is to rid yourself of that assumption.