Earlier this spring, the United States Department of Justice (“DOJ”) released new guidance regarding website and application (“app”) accessibility under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”). Though the ADA itself does not explicitly include language regarding website or app accessibility, the DOJ has stated that websites that provide products or services to the public are “places of public accommodation” and are covered under the ADA.
Department of Justice Statements Regarding Website and Application Compliance
Businesses open to the public are considered places of public accommodation, and must provide full and equal enjoyment of their goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations to people with disabilities under the ADA. DOJ and many federal courts have determined that this requirement includes not only a business’s “brick and mortar” store or facility but also its website and/or apps. DOJ’s guidance explicitly states that a business’s online presence must be compliant under the ADA, if it uses its website or app to market or sell products or services to the public.
What does an ADA Compliant Website Look Like?
An ADA compliant website can take many different forms, since people with disabilities use a variety of assistive software or other tools to navigate websites and apps. People who are blind may use screen readers. People who are hard of hearing may use captioning. People whose disabilities affect their ability to grasp and use a mouse may use verbal recognition software to control their computers and other devices with verbal commands. The key is to be compatible with these different types of assistive software.
This list is not exhaustive, but here are some simple ways to make your website more accessible:
- Having distinct color contrast between the background and text. This can help people with limited vision still read the text.
- Using something other than mere color cues to indicate commands. For example, a person who is using a screen reader would not know a field on a form is required if it is only noted in red.
- Adding text alternatives (“alt text”). People who are blind will not be able to understand the context of photos when no alt text is provided.
- Adding captions on videos for people with a hearing disability.
- Having keyboard and mouse navigation as an option.
- Having a portal for the public to report accessibility issues.
What Should Employers Do?
First and foremost, it is important that companies take this obligation seriously. Over the past three years, Plaintiffs have received over a million dollars in settlements as a result of lawsuits linked to website accessibility.
The resources below include links to sites that can review your website to show how accessible it is and suggest areas for improvement. When working on website or app design, companies should seek out web designers who are familiar with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (“WCAG”) and have the ability to make accessible and compliant websites and apps. WCAG provides resources to web developers to make sure that websites and apps work with what it calls “the four principles of accessibility.” The four principles state that websites and apps should be perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust in order to be accessible to every audience. As a general rule, WCAG compliance will greatly lessen a company’s litigation risk, since the guidelines are widely accepted by courts.
In addition to wanting to avoid litigation, companies should consider embracing these standards and proudly highlighting their efforts on their websites. Websites and apps that are accessible to traditionally marginalized groups benefit everyone, and companies that “go the extra step” to ensure that all customers can navigate their virtual storefronts should celebrate that fact. As a whole, these accessibility options make websites easier to navigate for all populations. It is also something that can be discussed and highlighted in a company’s accessibility policy, as well as its diversity, equity, and inclusion policy. It allows a company to stay competitive as well as shield it from possible litigation.
It is also important to understand that websites need to be updated to be compliant. On an annual basis, a company should update its website to make sure that it is accessible, and, if there is a portal to report accessibility issues on its website, to continue to take steps when problems are brought forward.
Resources Recommended by the DOJ:
To read more regarding the DOJs statement and guidance: https://beta.ada.gov/resources/web-guidance
Accessibility Checklist: https://accessibility.18f.gov/checklist
The Web Accessibility Initiative Standard: https://www.w3.org/WAI/WCAG21/quickref
Website Accessibility Checker: https://www.accessibilitychecker.org
Please contact Heather Hammond (firstname.lastname@example.org) at Gravel & Shea PC if you have questions or would like assistance.