Chapter 1 : ADA Compliance for Websites: The Definitive Guide (2021)
The moment is here! It’s time to learn exactly how to make your website ADA compliant.
In this comprehensive guide we’ll cover:
- Introduction to ADA Compliance & Web Accessibility
- The rise in web accessibility lawsuits, and why is it mandatory for websites to comply with the ADA
- Step by step – How to make your website ADA compliant and protected from legal action
- And loads more you didn’t know you needed to know (trust us, you’ll thank us later)
This is a one-stop shop for anyone looking to understand and solve the issue of web accessibility.
Let’s dive in.
ADA Compliance & Web Accessibility Basics
When your business views compliance as a friend instead of a foe, it opens up a world of innovative solutions and improved business processes.
In this chapter we’ll cover the fundamentals of web accessibility.
First, you’ll learn about the ADA and its history.
Then, we will examine ADA title 3, the relevant title for website owners.
Let’s do it.
Demand letters are on the rise
Website ADA-related lawsuits have risen by 300% year over year, and are expected to increase even more.
The exponential growth in web accessibility lawsuits has a widespread effect across industries, with small and medium businesses in the center of the storm.
But wait, websites? And the Americans with Disabilities Act?
What’s the connection between them?
What is the ADA?
The ADA (or Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990) is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination based on disability.
The ADA gives similar protection to the disabled community that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 gave to people of different races, genders, and religions.
History of the ADA
The ADA owes its birthright not to any one person, or any few, but to the many thousands of people who make up the disability rights movement.
These are folks who have worked for years organizing and attending protests, licking envelopes, drafting legislation, lobbying, filing lawsuits, risking arrest – and doing whatever they could for a cause they believed in.
We encourage you to do more research on the topic. Here are some articles we recommend:
From Bill to Law
The year: 1990
The president: George H.W. Bush
After a two year campaign championing the civil rights of various marginalized groups, disability advocates successfully lobbied and got legislation passed to answer the needs of people with disabilities and the regular discrimination they experience.
The historic Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law, changing accessibility for people with disabilities dramatically.
The ADA is broken down into five sections (known as titles), each relating to a different area of public life. The titles include:
- Title I: Employment
- Title II: Public Services: State and Local Government
- Title III: Public Accommodations and Services Operated by Private Entities
- Title IV: Telecommunications
- Title V: Miscellaneous Provisions
Title III of the ADA Explained
Title III of the ADA specifically addresses and defines what it means to offer accessibility in public accommodations operated by private businesses.
Among other things, it states:
- Places of public accommodation are prohibited from discriminating against people with disabilities.
- Businesses must make “reasonable modifications” in order to better serve people with disabilities.
The points addressed in Title III are regulated and enforced by the U.S. Department of Justice.
But wait, what is the Definition of a “Place of Public Accommodation?”
“A public accommodation is a private entity that owns, operates, leases, or leases to, a place of public accommodation. Places of public accommodation include a wide range of entities, such as restaurants, hotels, theaters, doctors’ offices, pharmacies, retail stores, museums, libraries, amusement parks, private schools, and day care centers. Private clubs and religious organizations are exempt from the ADA’s title III requirements for public accommodations.”
Let’s summarize what we have learned so far:
1. The aim of the ADA is to remove barriers to people living with disabilities in all areas of life and to ensure there is no discrimination based on disability.
2. According to Title III of the ADA, places of public accommodation must make modifications in order to be accessible to people with disabilities.
3. Places of public accommodation include a wide range of entities such as restaurants, hotels and theaters.
Chapter 2: Are Websites Covered Under the ADA?
In this chapter we will try to answer a big concern website owners are asking themselves – Are websites also covered under the ADA?
We will also examine the wave of ADA / web accessibility related lawsuits and how ambulance-chasing lawyers found a niche that is very profitable for them, but very problematic for you.
The Big Question
I’m sure you’re wondering by now, are websites and other digital assets such as mobile apps and documents considered “places of public accommodation?”
If the answer is yes, then website owners need to ensure compliance with ADA Title III, and ensure these assets are accessible to all people.
Let’s examine this further.
What’s the DOJ’s Stance on the Matter?
The United States Department of Justice, also known as the Justice Department, is a federal executive department of the United States government tasked with the enforcement of federal law and administration of justice in the United States.
In short – It is the enforcing entity of the ADA.
How Does the DOJ View Websites?
The DOJ sent to Congress a letter dated September 25, 2018 addressing and clarifying the organization’s views on whether or not websites are included in Title III of the ADA.
Despite the lack of clear regulations, the DOJ confirmed its belief that websites should be considered places of public accommodation.
“The Department first articulated its interpretation that the ADA applies to public accommodations’ websites over 20 years ago. This interpretation is consistent with the ADA’s…requirement that the goods, services, privileges, or activities provided by places of public accommodation be equally accessible to people with disabilities.”
Is there a Precedent?
Despite the lack of clear regulations regarding web technologies and Title III, that has not stopped lawyers from pursuing successful cases regarding digital accessibility.
One of the most well-known cases, Robles v. Domino’s Pizza Inc., in 2019, found the pizza chain giant subject to the regulations under Title III in all regards to their website and mobile applications.
This landmark case is setting a larger trend for other lawsuits regarding web technologies.
Other companies like Netflix and Amazon– and even superstar Beyonce herself– have all spent millions of dollars fighting digital accessibility suits. In fact, many well-known company websites have been sued for not complying with the ADA.
The more these big-name companies experience suits, the more media attention they garner, which has meant more discourse and attention for accessibility lawsuits.
In 2013, 2,722 Title III lawsuits were filed in federal courts. By 2018, that number had increased to 10,163.
This significant rise in cases is due to the influx of lawsuits regarding digital accessibility.
No industry is particularly safe. According to a report from Usable Net, a wide variety of industries were targeted in ADA web and application lawsuits in 2019. A few of the industries targeted included:
- Retail – 60%
- Food and service industry – 9%
- Entertainment & Leisure- 8%
- Travel/Hospitality- 7%
- Self-Service- 3%
There is also a trend of multiple suits within the same year. This means, if you or your organization don’t act quickly enough, you are likely to get hit with another lawsuit before you have even recovered from the previous one. If your company is an umbrella for multiple brands and operates several different websites and mobile applications, then you might be especially vulnerable to multiple suits.
What Could Happen if Your Website is Not Accessible / ADA Compliant?
Websites that fail to comply with the ADA are likely to be targeted by ambulance-chasing law firms that have found a niche they can make a lot of money out of, by suing website owners and easily winning the case as well.
The average settlement cost following a website accessibility demand letter is $5000, with some companies reporting of lawsuits that resulted in up to $20,000 in settlement costs.
So what now?
From court rulings to digital rights activists, the general consensus is that websites, online stores, and apps need to be included as public spaces for people with disabilities.
Now, this might surprise you… Non-compliance is often more expensive and a bigger headache than actually achieving website accessibility compliance.
And here’s a serious bonus:
Chapter 3: Step by Step: How to Make Your Website Accessible & ADA Compliant
Now that you have a basic understanding of web accessibility and the ADA, it’s time to get technical.
What does it actually mean to make our website accessible? And to whom exactly?
In this chapter we will cover all of that.. and then some more.
Digital vs. Physical Space
Historically, the places the ADA names as “places of public accommodation” are all physical places: Theaters, museums, restaurants, etc..
When an owner of a restaurant or a theater designs the construction of their location, they need to think about adding accessible ramps, as in the picture below.
And an accessible toilet:
But interacting with the internet is different.
A person who needs a wheelchair can often use the internet in the same way a non-disabled person does.
Who do we need to make our website accessible for?
Think about how you interact with the internet.
- You use your eyes for viewing the screen. People who have visual impairments need assistance accessing your website. These include:
People who are color blind:
People who are totally blind:
People who have other visual impairments:
Central loss vision:
- You use your ears to hear videos and audio. People with auditory impairments need assistance accessing your website. These include: People who are hard of hearing:
- You use your fingers to type. People with physical impairments need assistance accessing your website. These include:
People who are differently-abled and use different devices to type:
- You use your cognitive processes to understand the information that is displayed on the screen. People with cognitive impairments need assistance accessing your website. These include:
People who have seizures, ADHD and other forms of cognitive disabilities:
WCAG: The Accessibility Standard for ADA compliance
The DOJ has frequently referenced the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 level AA as the web accessibility standard to follow to become ADA compliant.
It’s unlikely that a site that’s WCAG 2.0 level AA compliant would be sued for lack of accessibility.
What is the WCAG?
The WCAG are series of guidelines that provide information about web accessibility.
The guidelines (reaching a staggering 80+page count) give site owners clear instructions toward making their website accessible to people with disabilities.
How can you make your website accessible and fully compliant with the ADA / WCAG?
WCAG’s guidelines can be complicated at first glance. When broken down and put very simply, the requirements are solved by performing two main actions:
- 1. Adding a website accessibility interface
- 2. Tagging images and elements for screen reader and keyword navigation compatibility
Let’s take a closer look.
1. What is an accessibility interface?
An accessibility interface will allow any visitor to adjust the website’s design and user interface elements to fit their individual needs or disability. Example use cases of an accessibility interface include:
- ADHD friendly functions: Reduce distractions, allow individuals with neurodevelopment disorders to ingest website content more easily
- Visually impaired functions: Allow for larger text, contrast, and careful use of colors
- Cognitive disability functions: Help users with cognitive disabilities like autism and dyslexia to focus and understand important website elements
2. What are assistive technologies and how can my site become compatible?
Allowing for screen readers to function on your website is a crucial component of digital accessibility.
A screen reader is a device used by visually impaired users. It will usually begin at the top of a website and read the content, which includes both text and alternative text that describes images.
Frequently, images on your website tell part of the story you are trying to convey to users.
Some images might explain places, things, display your product or otherwise contribute to the overall contextualization and understanding of your website content.
Not every user who comes to your website will have a full motor function.
Those with motor impairments deserve equal access to navigating the internet, including your website. Certain navigational tools can be implemented to allow for ease of movement. These include:
- Using specific keyboard keys like Tab, Shift+Tab, and the Enter keys for specific purposes on the website
- On-screen keyboard availability for individuals unable to use a computer mouse
- Shortcuts such as “M” (menus), “H” (headings), “F” (forms), “B” (buttons), and “G” (graphics) allow users to more quickly and easily access specific elements of your website
- Faster navigation techniques that allow users to access any important page with a click
Service providers we recommend
In the past, companies resorted to a manual approach to updating and amending their websites to be more accessible and compliant.
A manual method can be costly (+$5K/month), as it requires a specialized professional to audit, plan, and implement the changes.
Manual methods are now generally considered outdated, as semi-automated tools have impacted how easily companies can update their websites.
A great example of a company that challenges the old “manual” approach is AudioEye, which offers a semi-automated solution that achieves full ADA compliance at a fraction of the cost of the traditional services.
AudioEye’s semi-automated solution involves a combination of both using AI algorithms (patented) to remediate most of the website’s code, and additional manual “hands-on” remediation executed by IAAP-certified accessibility experts.
The Secret Sauce: AI with a Human Touch – 24/7 Coverage
While artificial intelligence can go a long way in working to help get your website up to compliance standards, it does not indicate or guarantee full compliance.
Some companies in the website accessibility space today will offer AI solutions, but they aren’t reaching full compliance – and without full compliance, you are liable to lawsuits.
AudioEye (NASDAQ: AEYE) is unique in that it offers a combination of AI and human supervision. That means no stone is left unturned when it comes to your website’s compliance.
If it turns out that your website has accessibility issues, the good news is now you know about it! Our checker also tells you exactly how to fix each problem.
We hope you enjoyed our guide.
Now one question remains about website accessibility and compliance: Where does your business stand?
Thanks to technological advancements and semi-automated solutions, achieving website compliance has never been easier.
Thankfully, your business’s compliance journey will not only protect you legally, but open your business to an entirely new world of users, innovative practices, opportunities, and more.