This is a question that some of our clients have been asking more and more lately. Here, at SOLTECH, 2018 has been a very busy year helping those very clients achieve ADA compliance and answering their questions around this important topic.

We understand the complex nature of achieving ADA compliance and how your business can be impacted by undertaking this task. However, we feel that serious consideration should be given to this matter. That’s why it’s important to understand a little bit of the background of the ADA as it pertains to your online presence.

As you could imagine, there are a lot of legalities involved with this subject. However, this article is not meant to be a legal opinion on the matter, but, rather an overview of

  • Title III of the ADA.
  • The WCAG Guidelines.
  • The current landscape and how businesses are being affected.
  • And, why you should consider having your digital presence be ADA compliant.

What is Title III of the ADA?

The Americans with Disabilities Act was enacted in 1990 to protect people with disabilities against discrimination in several areas, including employment, transportation, public accommodations, communications and access to state and local government’ programs and services. For the purposes of this article we will focus our attention on “public accommodations,” which is where Title III comes into play.

According to ADA.gov, Title III of the ADA “prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in the activities of places of public accommodations (businesses that are generally open to the public and that fall into one of 12 categories listed in the ADA, such as restaurants, movie theaters, schools, day care facilities, recreation facilities, doctors’ offices, commercial & privately owned facilities, nonresidential facilities such as factories, warehouses, or office buildings.)”

Since the ADA was enacted in 1990, predating the internet, the laws have not quite kept up with the modern world and this has caused courts to be split on which side of the argument they fall. In 2016, promises to provide clarity on how Title III was to be applied to websites were delayed. However, this has not stopped the increase in the number of federal lawsuits being filed. This could be due in part to the ADA Title III Regulations section titled, “Additional Information.” In this section we find an acknowledgement that the ADA does not explicitly mention the Internet, however, it does say that the government has taken the position that “title III covers access to Web sites of public accommodations.”

You are probably asking yourself, if the government has not provided clarity on Title III but still holds businesses accountable for their web presence, how do you know what to do to make your website ADA compliant?

The W3C & WCAG

In the absence of rules, guidelines, or any sort of clarity regarding how web sites must adhere to Title III of the ADA, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) has developed web content accessibility guidelines to make web content more accessible. W3C is an international community made up of member organizations, full time staff, and the public. They work together to develop web standards that businesses can follow. They developed a set of guidelines called the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) that make web content accessible to people with disabilities. The WCAG guidelines have three conformance levels (A, AA, & AAA). Each level is more demanding in its adherence to the WCAG guidelines and its impact on the overall design of your digital presence.

The WCAG guidelines cover items, amongst others, such as:

  • Providing text alternatives for any non-text content
  • Providing captions for visual media
  • Content structure that be presented in different ways
  • Proper use of color elements
  • Site navigation accessible through keyboard functions
  • Non-seizure inducing content
  • Readability (Fonts, sizes, colors, etc)

To view the most recent guidelines, visit https://www.w3.org/TR/WCAG21

Businesses take notice in 2018

Amazon, Nike, Apple, Burger King, Pandora, and the list goes on and on. These are just a few of the hundreds of companies facing federal class action lawsuits for violating Title III of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA).

2018 has been a busy year for such lawsuits. In fact, according to adatitleiii.com, over 1,053 federal class action lawsuits have been filed in just the first six months of 2018, far surpassing the first six months of 2017. Lawsuits have been filed in almost every industry and market; including online only businesses. It’s no longer just affecting global brands but also smaller businesses, universities, and small government entities.

We’re seeing businesses starting to take notice and proactively start working on their digital presence before it gets to litigation.

How are businesses violating the ADA online?

In the case of Apple and Amazon, probably two of the biggest brands in the above referenced list, the class action lawsuits claim that Apple and Amazon’s websites are not accessible to the visually impaired. The claims further state that:

  • Their websites are not compatible with screen readers and refreshable Braille displays.
  • They do not provide text alternatives for non-text content.
  • The websites have no equivalent text for title frames and scripts. This makes visually impaired visitors incapable of navigating the site properly or at all.

Several of these brands have similar violations as well as other items such as:

  • The lack of alt-text on images, links, and linked images.
  • Redundant links.
  • Missing captions on videos.
  • Use of too many pop-up forms with no alt text.
  • Providing less information to those with disabilities than what is provided to the general public.

You’ve probably read through this list and realized that your site might have or has similar issues.

How do we know if our website is in violation of the ADA and WCAG guidelines?

The W3C has a quick reference guide on their website that can help you determine if you are ADA compliant or not. However, that guide, located here, can be a little technical for some readers. The W3C also provides a list of websites that can perform a scan of your website and give a report of WCAG issues. Although, some of these tools do a decent job of scanning simple sites, you may not get the full picture needed if you decide to address ADA compliance. Furthermore, depending on the complexity of your site and the size of your business, you may need to address multiple systems, such as apps, something these tools cannot handle.

Often times it is best to work with a trusted vendor who has experience dealing with ADA and WCAG compliance matters. They can properly assess the situation and recommend the best course of action.

So, should we make our website ADA and WCAG compliant?

In short, the answer should be yes. There are several reasons you should highly consider this move for your business.

  1. The cost of litigation far outweighs the cost of updating your web presence.
  2. Depending on the industry and type of business you are in, you could be missing out on thousands if not millions of potential customers looking for your products or services.
  3. Being ADA compliant means following proper SEO tactics. Just by addressing issues like alt text, proper site structure, proper meta tagging, etc., you could improve your overall SEO.
  4. You can improve your brand’s awareness and social reputation. Many companies are often looking to make a social impact and help raise awareness for a particular cause. Why not begin with the customer facing image of your brand, your website.
  5. The number one reason to make your website ADA compliant is, that it is the right thing to do. The ADA was enacted so that no American would face discrimination or be treated differently because of their disability. Imagine being someone who is visually impaired living in an online digital world. You would want to have the same access to information, education, products, and services that others have.

How much will ADA & WCAG compliance cost us?

It’s hard to put an exact cost to such a project without doing a proper analysis of your web presence and/or application. Costs can vary depending on such factors as

  • The size of your website. We need to determine how many pages will need to be addressed.
  • Is your site informational or transactional. Sites that offer mostly text would require less work. Ecommerce websites are more complex than websites that just provide information to consumers.
  • Does your website contain a lot of media such as images and videos? WCAG calls for closed captioning of video media. This can increase your cost.
  • Is it your website, app or both? Multiple systems require more time.

How can SOLTECH help me?

SOLTECH has been in business for more than 20 years. During this time, we’ve helped businesses of all sizes, complexity and global reach address ADA and WCAG compliance issues. However, the first step is determining a proper course of action before you invest in this type of project.

We offer a free initial consultation to determine the steps needed to help you fully achieve ADA and WCAG compliance. Click here to fill out our contact form to start the conversation.