You might have heard the term ADA Compliant, referencing the federal Americans with Disabilities Act, which was signed into law under the first George Bush in 1990. The bill was enacted to prohibit discrimination against those with physical disabilities to ensure fair and equal access (or accommodation thereof) to public places. Initially, the focus was on eliminating barriers and providing access for all, to all businesses, schools, and public areas. Recently, “Places of Public Accommodation” under Title III of ADA, has come under scrutiny as to whether or not websites and mobile apps are included within these laws.
The Threat of ADA Non-Compliance
Websites with significant inaccessible components can be seen as discriminatory against persons with disabilities. In the recent past, there has been an influx of lawsuits threatening the disbarment of schools, health care providers, and agencies that accept government funds for operation. These litigations have scared a lot of businesses and municipalities to update their website and make them ADA compliant, sometimes falling victim to online extortionists who charged an obscene amount of money by taking advantage of people’s fears of a lawsuit.
Web Content Accessibility Guidelines
While standards were provided for businesses to accommodate those with physical handicaps, we are still waiting for confirmed guidance for the internet, web-based, and mobile applications. In the meantime, guidelines have been established and are frequently referred to in court.
The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) who develops international web standards, originally came up with recommendations in 1999 called Web Content Accessibility Guidelines or WCAG 1. As the web and digital technology expanded, WCAG 2 was released in 2008, which also widen the range of people with disabilities it serves to include those who are blind, deaf, learning and cognitively disabled, and those with limited mobility. WCAG 2.1 was released in 2018 to fill in the gaps further and includes mobile responsiveness and other guidelines for those who suffer from poor vision. Both WCAG 2 and 2.1 have valuable principles that every business owner should abide by; however, the 2.0 version is considered a baseline for accessibility, and the 2.1 version should be used as your testing standard to improve usability for all. FYI…Another round of updates is already in the works, known as “Silver” or WCAG 3.
Grey Area in ADA Website Compliance
Courts have come to varying conclusions whether coverage is limited to physical spaces and whether a company’s website is included in these requirements. Currently, neither Congress nor the Department of Justice (the primary federal government agency responsible for enforcing ADA) has adequately clarified the scope of ADA in terms of website accessibility compliance for private companies. While WCAG 2, Level AA (the success criteria level that most courts generally rely on) is frequently referenced in litigation, some courts have interpreted Title III of the ADA to include websites as public domains that should be accessible to all, while others have not. There seems to be no ADA web-based standard for private entities and for companies who employ less than 15 people; especially, for states like Michigan, who have yet to adopt legislation governing website compliance.
Perks of Being ADA Compliant
The most significant incentive for meeting compliance is knowing that you have done all that you could to be fair and opportunistic for all people, no matter their skill level. It’s just good business practice to have an online presence that can be received by all. Also, the WCAG guidelines have a lot of great suggestions to help make your website read and look better to the end-user, which, if it is engaging to visitors, the longer they remain on your site will essentially increase your sales. Another consideration in becoming ADA compliant is that we, Creative Programs and Systems (CPS), study the trends of Search Engine Optimization and predict that compliance will soon be a ranking factor for organic SERP placement. SERP is the natural placement of your business listing when queried in search engines, not paid advertisements. It’s a win-win!
There are no automatic or instant solutions available from a widget or a plugin to make your website ADA compliant. Updating your website to become ADA compliant is a process and you can start by breaking down sections of your website to make it more manageable. But, really getting a head start is something and CPS can help get you there. It boils down to having proper, clean coding and best practices in software development from a professional team of programmers who can interpret federal and state policies and deliver a product that not only meets compliance but is also modern and informative. If you seek to obtain a reputable website developer, such as CPS, to ensure full compliance with WCAG 2.1, contact us today. CPS also provides Managed IT services, SEO and digital marketing, and customized programming and software that meets your needs. To learn more, visit www.cpsmi.com.