Many of our clients have asked us to audit their websites for ADA compliance. Aside from being good citizens, there are some excellent reasons to do so right away.
- As of January 18, 2018, Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 put into effect new requirements targeting greater accessibility of Information and Communication Technology (ICT), which encompasses websites. While these requirements specifically cite federal government electronic and information technology, the trend has been to apply these requirements to other sectors, including universities, ecommerce and general business—even non-brick-and-mortar businesses.
- According to data tracked by the law firm, Seyfarth Shaw, the number of federal court lawsuits against companies with non-compliant websites almost tripled from 2,722 in 2013 to 7,663 in 2017; and by end of 2018, this number is expected to increase by 30%, bringing it close to 10,000. Also, keep in mind, this does not include those lawsuits on the state and local levels. Clearly, ADA Compliance has become more of an issue when both building and maintaining your company website.
The Internet as a "Place of Public Accommodation"
When the American With Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law in 1990, which prohibited the discrimination against those with disabilities in “any place of public accommodation,” there had been no real widescale use of the Internet. These days, however, our reliance on the web has caused a shift in perception of what places are for public accommodation; and the updating of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (which affects the interpretation of the ADA requirement) is a reflection of this.
An organization may think they have complied with the law by providing wheelchair access, braille on signage, etc., but have they also considered what it takes to make sure their website is equally accessible? And if so, what is the standard and who determines what is compliant?
Just Who Oversees ADA Compliance?
For starters, there is no government oversight agency that has set down hard-and-fast rules or even guidelines of what is considered ADA compliant. Additionally, there is no one to “police” those sites that may fall short in compliance. So what then have the courts used to determine if discrimination has occurred in the above-mentioned lawsuits? While each case has been different, one set of guidelines that has been used prevalently in the courts is the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), developed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), an international standards organization for the web.
The Four Main Principles Web Content Accessibility
There are four main principles to the WCAG, which the W3C states as follows:
- “Perceivable. Information and the user interface components must be presented to users in ways they can perceive.
- Provide text alternatives for non-text content
- Provide captions and other alternatives for multimedia
- Create content that can be presented in different ways, including by assistive technologies, without losing meaning
- Make it easier for users to see and hear content”
Example: Apply an “alt tag” to a picture to describe an image
- “Operable. User interface components and navigation must be operable.
- Make all functionality available from a keyboard
- Give users enough time to read and use content
- Do not use content that causes seizures or physical reactions
- Help users navigate and find content
- Make it easier to use inputs other than keyboard”
Example: Avoid design elements that have been known to cause seizures
- “Understandable. Information and the operation of user interface must be understandable.
- Make text readable and understandable
- Make content appear and operate in predictable ways
- Help users avoid and correct mistakes”
Example: Navigation is consistent throughout the site
- “Robust. Content must be robust enough that it can be interpreted reliably by a wide variety of user agents, including assistive technologies.
- Maximize compatibility with current and future user tools”
Example: Markup language includes start and end tags which make it easier for an assistive technology to interpret and render the coding
Levels of Conformance
Additionally, the W3C provides levels of conformance, or how well a website meets or conforms to the standards set forth in these principals. There are three ratings:
- “A”: A website must meet these standards, or one or more groups will find it impossible to access the content
- “AA”: A website should meet these standards, or some groups will not be able to access the content
- “AAA”: A website may meet these standards for some groups to have even greater accessibility of the content
Adherence to the W3C “A” and “AA” levels has usually been enough to show compliance in the above lawsuits, but, that said, the environment keeps evolving. For instance, the W3C recently updated their accessibility standards in the WCAG to 2.1 this past July. So even if your site was compliant when made, it may not be now.
We, at Animus Rex, have always built our websites with an emphasis on accessibility because it’s the right thing to do. Other benefits include:
- Expands your potential audience. Why make it difficult for an entire group of visitors (often potential customers/clients) to use your website?
- Helps with SEO since proper semantic coding makes it easier for web crawlers to read and understand the content.
- It’s a good PR move. ADA compliance can help your reputation.
- Proper semantic layout helps with page load speed and usability across devices.
- You can mitigate the potential for costly litigation and penalties.
Periodic Audits for ADA Compliance
We think it wise to have your website periodically audited for ADA Compliance, since neither websites nor standards are static. We recommend bi-annual auditing and re-certification.
If you are an existing client, we are happy to perform an ADA audit, mitigate any found issues and issue (or re-issue) an ADA Compliance Certificate. Please make a normal production request to start the process. Because we code for 95%+ ADA compliance when we create sites, audits typically turn up very little and if done regularly, re-certifications are quick and painless, even with the more advanced standards that came out in July 2018.
For websites we have not developed, we can perform an ADA audit and issue written recommendations that you can take to your existing development team for remediation. We can then retest and issue an ADA Compliance Certificate based on those issues being properly mitigated. Please contact us for more information if you’re interested.
In the end, it should be noted ADA compliance for websites is still a developing crossroads of technology and law, but the more we can broaden our sense of what encompasses accessibility, the greater chance we have of making both our websites and the web, itself, better for all.
Thanks and be well,
~Your Friendly Animus Rex Team