The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) & Web Accessibility

The ADA is a law established to protect the rights of people with disabilities including their right to employment, public services, and public accommodations.

Who does the ADA protect and what does it cover?

The ADA protects qualified individuals with disabilities, whether temporary or permanent. According to the ADA website, a person with a disability is someone who:

  • has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities,
  • has a history or record of such an impairment (ex. cancer that is in remission), or
  • is perceived by others as having an impairment (ex. a person who has scars from a severe burn).

ADA regulation does not list every single disability. Examples of protected disabilities include:

  • Autism
  • Blindness or low vision
  • Cancer
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Deafness or hearing loss
  • Epilepsy
  • Intellectual disabilities
  • Mobile disabilities
  • Traumatic brain injury
  • And many more

The Americans with Disabilities Act is made up of five different sections (or titles) for organizations in the United States to follow

According to the ADA’s government website, this includes:

“Employers must provide people with disabilities equal opportunities like recruitment, hiring, training, pay, and more.”

“State and local governments must provide people with disabilities equal opportunities to benefit from their programs and services.”

“Businesses and nonprofits must provide people with disabilities equal opportunities to access the goods or services they offer. This includes restaurants, hotels, stores, theaters, schools, offices, hospitals, gyms, transportation, and more.”

“Telephone companies must provide services that allow people with hearing and speech disabilities to communicate.”

This title supports people with disabilities who need legal protection and prevents retaliation against individuals who exercise their rights under the ADA.

How does the ADA apply to web accessibility today?

Even though the civil rights law was established long before the rise of E-commerce, courts interpret Title II (Public services: State and local government) and Title III (Public accommodations: Private entities) as applying to web-based content and services.

Since the early 2000s, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has openly declared that ADA compliance includes access to websites that provide services, public accommodations, and/or other functions outlined in the Act.

As a result, more and more accessibility lawsuits are being filed each year. Data from law firm Seyfarth Shaw shows that “more than 11,400 people filed an ADA Title III lawsuit in 2021—a 4 percent increase from 2020 and a 320 percent increase since 2013.”

Want to avoid getting hit with an ADA lawsuit? If your organization does business or offers public accommodations online, it must provide equal access to goods, services, and resources for all.

How does the ADA define compliance?

The short answer: There is no universal compliance checklist outlined in the ADA itself to follow.

You might be wondering…so if there are no specific legal requirements, how do I know what my accessibility requirements should be?

Although the ADA doesn’t mandate specific techniques for meeting accessibility criteria, the DOJ recently published updated guidance on web accessibility, referencing WCAG as the standard.

When in doubt, WCAG is the way to go.

What does success look like? The “levels of conformance” are broken down into three stages:

  • A (basic conformance)
  • AA (intermediate conformance)
  • AAA (advanced conformance)

The guidelines are updated to reflect new technological innovations. If you don’t have specific accessibility regulations that apply to your organization but want to avoid legal risk, WCAG 2.1 A and AA compliance is a pretty safe bet.

Learn more about ADA Compliance.

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