Is your Website ADA Compliant? Here’s Our Guide to Accessibility

As the digital world grows every day, the technology services of our future must be prepared to meet the increasing demands that come with web accessibility for the disabled. And this is for good reason. Accessibility started out as a way to help the disabled through the addition of physical structures to alleviate architectural barriers and take steps to help those suffering from impaired senses.  This ultimately means making sure your website is accessible for use by those who are vision, hearing or speech impaired.

The costs of violating accessibility and ADA compliance on your website is simply too high for small businesses to ignore. The American Disabilities Act (1990) was originally enacted to prohibit discrimination against the disabled in jobs, education, transportation and public/private places. Its purpose was to ensure that the disabled receive the same rights and opportunities as a non-disabled person so that they can perform their duties without any hardship.

The Impact on your Website

As of January 2018, a stronger focus of regulations took effect that demands that all websites and digital services moving forward must meet the updated guidelines of the Web Content Accessibility Guide 2.0 (WCAG), of which there are 61 specific guidelines to meet overall. If your website is considered to be a form of public accommodation, such as that of a government department or a large public-private service like Facebook, then the WCAG requires that domain to meet its standards to either the A (must support), AA (should support) or AAA (may support) level depending on its importance. This also includes website that can be categorized as business-2-consumer, e-commerce or retail based.

According to the guidelines of the updated WCAG 2.0, web developers should be up to standards on the following points of accessible web design:

  1. Text must meet a minimum level of contrast that allows for adequate differentiation between the font color and background.

  2. All websites should allow for navigation with a keyboard. This includes the need for skip navigation buttons, and possibly the manual setting of tab index functions in HTML code.

  3. All websites must be compatible with screen reader software. This can often be difficult to test for, and will require a significant amount of work to fix if ignored in the original design.

  4. All websites must be able to handle text scaling up to 200% in font-size without the need for horizontal scrolling or content-breaks in the layout. This can also be difficult to fix in a more complex design.

The Repercussions of Ignoring Accessibility Guidelines

Though ADA Compliance Guidelines are strictest for government-run websites, many large retail chains and corporations have run afoul of ADA Compliance laws in the past. Companies that have encountered Accessibility violations include Coca Cola, Domino’s Pizza, Winn-Dixie, GNC and various educational institutions around the nation. And the list continues to grow every day.

ADA compliance lawsuits are becoming more common in our society as more and more smaller, privately run businesses find themselves in violation of Title III of the ADA. Title III pertains to private sector businesses and their need to provide accessibility for web and mobile applications. Many companies have been receiving lawsuits and demand letters because of their lack of ADA compliance. And the Department of Justice has backed a significant amount of them.

It gets very expensive for a small business to hire an attorney to fight these violations and defend their actions. It brings a huge amount of stress on businesses facing the lawsuits and inevitably leads to bad PR. Keeping your web presence up to date and ADA compliant is essential to avoiding these types of lawsuits and provide the best experience for your customer.

The Cost of Ignoring ADA Guidelines

Any violations of the ADA will ultimately be processed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and enforced by the Department of Justice (DOJ). The majority of these cases are due to complaints relating to discrimination, failure to provide adequate accommodations, hiring violations and wrongful termination.

In March 2014, the rules were updated by the DOJ to adjust for inflation of civil monetary penalties under title III of the ADA. This adjustment allowed for an increase in maximum civil penalties for first time offenders from $55,000 to $75,000. Any subsequent violations would face a maximum penalty of $150,000. These penalties are supposed to act as a deterrent to companies choosing to ignore accommodations for accessibility.

However, before the DOJ can file a lawsuit, they are required to reach out to the company in violation and attempt to reach a negotiated settlement. In the event that the DOJ and company successfully reach a settlement, a much smaller fine or amount would get paid out to the party seeking reparations.

Of course, many companies in the past have willingly chosen to ignore DOJ summons for a settlement, which then gives the DOJ the right to file a lawsuit against the offending company. Once filed, the DOJ can obtain court orders that force a company to provide back pay and compensatory damages to the victim, along with penalties in line with the updated rules from March 2014.

There are many companies in the past that have ended up in the crosshairs of the DOJ for being in violation of the ADA. These include such entities as RV parks discriminating against sick children, hotels failing to accommodate their guest rooms for accessibility, amphitheaters failing to provide easy access for those in wheelchairs, and even large corporations such as WalMart discriminating against those in need of service animals.

The Benefits of ADA Compliance

It is always in your businesses best interest to adhere to ADA specific guidelines. Not only does this increase your ability to attract new customers, but staying out of trouble with the law should be par for the course in your business. Accessibility should always be seen as a plus, rather than an unnecessary burden. We are heading for a world where the population is living longer and experiencing increasing rates of blindness and other forms of impairment. It also helps that the majority of consumers prefer to shop at socially responsible companies that are perceived to be doing the right thing.

And what business doesn’t love a nice tax credit. Through adherence to ADA compliance, businesses can apply through the IRS to receive up to a 50% tax credit for expenditures over $250, with a maximum tax benefit of $5,000. Clearly the benefits of ADA Compliance greatly outweigh the costs of failing to meet the guidelines. Fortunately for your business, there are many different online tools that you can use to check the accessibility rating of your website.

By putting a strong emphasis on your company’s efforts to provide accessibility for the disabled, you will help foster an environment of trust, reliability, pride for your brand, care and loyalty amongst your customers. You should always seek to educate your customers on the company’s efforts to meet ADA compliance, as it can only generate goodwill amongst your market. On top of this, Search Engine indexes are now including accessibility-based metadata in a website’s SEO ranking, so including compliance-based information in your website’s codes or tags will be very positive for your search engine ranking.

Piece Contributed By Brian Glassanos