The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a landmark civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against disabled individuals in all areas of public life. It gives millions of people with disabilities equal access to employment, government, telecommunications, and businesses.
Businesses must make reasonable modifications to accommodate customers with disabilities. Title III of the ADA addresses businesses specifically. It prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in places of public accommodation, which include restaurants, private schools, sports stadiums, office buildings, and more. Businesses are required to make “reasonable modifications” to serve people with disabilities.
Who Needs to Be Compliant?
Under Title III, businesses “open to the public” both in the physical world and online are required to provide equal access to people with disabilities.
Examples of businesses open to the public include:
- Restaurants and bars.
- Retail establishments.
- Hotels and other places of lodging.
- Parks, zoos, and other places of recreation.
- Hospitals and professional offices of healthcare providers.
- Schools and universities.
- Museums, libraries, and galleries.
You might ask well who is exempt from ADA compliance? Most businesses aren’t eligible for ADA compliance exemptions. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits businesses open to the public, non-profit service providers, and government agencies from discriminating on the basis of disability. If your organization is “generally open to the public,” you have a responsibility to provide reasonable accommodations to people with disabilities.
Does the ADA Apply to Websites?
Although the Americans with Disabilities Act specifies that its requirements for physical spaces do not apply to virtual environments, the U.S. Department of Justice has declared that websites are still public accommodations. As a result, they must be accessible to people with disabilities. In March 2022, the DOJ published guidance on web accessibility and the ADA.
The DOJ does not have a law for web accessibility. However, the agency’s interpretation of the nondiscrimination and effective communication provisions apply to websites. Over the past 20 years, the DOJ has supported this interpretation through court cases and settlements. In other words, if your site is intended for public use, it should be accessible.
What Is Web Accessibility?
Web accessibility is the practice of making sure that websites are usable by everyone. Business owners should prioritize accessible tools and technologies like image alt text, closed captioning, and website translation. This digital tool removes barriers for those with disabilities like blindness. Like a wheelchair ramp in a physical location, accessibility online is an important consideration for businesses to meet ADA compliance.
What Are the Most Common Website ADA Violations?
- Low Contrast Text
- Missing Image Alternative Text
- Missing Language Tags
- Empty Hyperlinks and Poor Link Text
How Does the ADA Determine Web Accessibility?
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) does not have technical standards for web accessibility. The DOJ, however, suggests that all businesses use the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) to evaluate the accessibility of their websites and digital content. Although it isn’t codified into law, past rulings have set WCAG 2.0 Level AA as the benchmark for web accessibility.
The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) has published guidelines to help make web content more accessible. The guidelines are organized into 61 statements, which can be read as pass-or-fail statements addressing common issues such as low-contrast text, missing or non-descriptive alt text, and keyboard accessibility.
What’s the Risk of Non-Compliance?
Small businesses are getting sued every year for violating ADA and non-discrimination laws. While most of the headlines go to high-profile cases, like Nike, Domino’s, and Netflix, the vast majority of ADA lawsuits are filed against small and medium-sized businesses. When a customer runs into an issue online, they may write a letter to the website owner. It can be a lengthy piece that goes into detail about the issues they encountered and how the online experience was impacted. These letters are typically sent to businesses who are in violation of the ADA (American for Disabilities Act). If the company doesn’t comply, it may face hefty fines that can reach $50,000 per violation, per day.