August 16, 2021
Welcome to our 4-part blog series all about ADA Compliance! In this series, we’ll take you through what ADA Compliance is and how the ADA affects websites. We’ll also explore ADA Web accessibility lawsuits in recent years, and provide an ADA Compliance Checker that you can use to audit your website.
Let’s get started!
What is ADA Compliance?
In 1990, President George H.W. Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The purpose of the law is to make sure that people with disabilities have the same rights and opportunities as everyone else.
Simply put, it is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against those who have disabilities.
The Act is not just about those with physical disabilities, but also requires businesses to take reasonable steps to accommodate those individuals who may have difficulty communicating due to vision, hearing, or speech impairments.
In 2010, the law was expanded to include standards for Accessible Design. This requires companies to make all information and communication technology (ICT) accessible to those with a disability. ICT refers to “the internet, wireless networks, cell phones, computers, software, middleware, video-conferencing, social networking, and other media applications and services enabling users to access, retrieve, store, transmit, and manipulate information in a digital form.”
Failure to comply with the ADA, including the ADA Accessible Design law, may result in the noncomplying business incurring hefty penalties imposed by the government. Individuals with disabilities who were adversely affected by the noncompliance may file lawsuits against the non-complying business for damages they suffered due to the noncompliance.
Compliance with the ADA may be as simple as rearranging furniture, so walking through the space is easier for someone who has a visual impairment. Doors may be widened so a wheelchair can easily pass through.
Low-density carpets may be replaced to make it easier for someone with a mobility issue to get through the space without stumbling or falling. Entrance ramps to buildings may be installed as an alternate way to enter the building for those who cannot use the steps.
Other more complicated accommodations may need to be made. For one example, a bathroom may need remodeling to accommodate the handicapped.
ADA Compliance is not the same as 508 Compliance. The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 was the law prior to the enactment of the ADA of 1990. That Act was the starting point for creating rights for those with disabilities that went beyond just looking after their medical needs. Section 508 of that Act specifically requires federal agencies to provide access to communication and computer technology to those who are disabled.
Section 508 is a federal law applying to federal agencies, while the ADA is a civil rights law that applies to both public and private agencies and businesses.
What is Section 508 compliant? Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act “requires access to ICT developed, procured, maintained, or used by federal agencies. Examples include computers, telecommunications equipment, multifunction office machines such as copiers that also operate as printers, software, websites, information kiosks and transaction machines, and electronic documents.” This ensures access for “people with physical, sensory, or cognitive disabilities.”
Although section 508 requires compliance by federal agencies, the following must comply with ADA Accessible requirements:
Who is Disabled According to the ADA?
There is no official ADA disability list specifically citing all impairments that qualify as disabilities under the Act. Instead, the ADA defines one who has a disability as “a person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a person who has a history or record of such an impairment, or a person who is perceived by others as having such an impairment.”
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) provides examples to clarify the definition of disability. The Commission notes that an impairment that limits a major life activity refers to activities such as “seeing, hearing, speaking, walking, breathing, performing a manual task, learning, caring for oneself, and working.”
This means that, for example, a person with some type of paralysis, perhaps epilepsy, or a substantial hearing or visual impairment would meet the definition, whereas someone with a broken bone that is healing would not.
One who has a “record of impairment” may mean a person with a history of an illness that is not deemed cured but may be in remission. Someone with an apparent physical deformity or who is severely disfigured may not be impaired, but may also be considered disabled to the degree that the employer might otherwise discriminate against them out of fear that other workers or customers may have a negative reaction to the person.
What are the ADA Compliance Standards?
There are five sections to the ADA which outline specifically who must follow the ADA in each section. Each section has a clause requiring accommodations for those who have communication disabilities such as vision or hearing loss, or speech impediments. Specifically, those sections are labeled as “Titles.” An overview of the ADA meaning of each section follows:
Applies to all employers who have 15 or more employees, whether government or private employers. Employers must give equal opportunities to those with disabilities even if this means the employee needs the employer to provide reasonable accommodations in order for the employee to do the job. The accommodation is “reasonable” if it does not cause the employer undue hardship.
State and local government providing public services. All services must be available to all people. This title prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities. Reasonable modifications must be made when necessary in order to communicate effectively with those who may have hearing, vision, or speech disabilities. Public transportation falls under this Title and requires busses, passenger trains, and subways, etc. to provide accommodations for users with disabilities.
Private entities that provide public accommodations and services. Privately owned businesses that are open to the public, like hotels, restaurants, private schools, stadiums, sports arenas, movie theaters, shopping malls, golf clubs, etc., are required to make reasonable modifications to accommodate those with disabilities. The law applies to all places that are open to the public. Privately funded transportation, such as taxicabs, airport shuttles, Greyhound buses, and similar transportation vehicles are legally required to provide accommodations for individuals who are disabled.
Telecommunications. Telephone and internet companies must provide services that allow individuals with speech and hearing deficits to communicate over the telephone. There must be closed captioning for all federally funded public service announcements (PSAs).
Miscellaneous provisions. This is essentially a “catch-all” provision. It prohibits retaliation against a person who files a complaint against a company for violating the ADA. It also provides for a person who prevails on a claim filed against a business to collect attorney fees and costs.
Web Content Accessibility Guidelines
The ADA requirements for websites to be ADA compliant are set forth in the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). These are effective even though, to date, there has not been any official law applicable to specific requirements for websites.
How to Determine if Your Business is in Compliance
Do not risk high fines or lawsuits, or withdrawal of federal funding if you receive any, by not being compliant with the ADA. It does not matter whether you are intentionally non-compliant or unaware of the compliance requirements.
The law concerning compliance requirements for websites is vague. Do your business a favor and perform an ADA Site Audit through our partner AccessiBE. We proudly offer a 30% discount to check whether your website is ADA compliant.