The American Disabilities Act of 1990
Originally passed in 1990, the American Disabilities Act (ADA) was the America’s first comprehensive civil rights law that protected those with disabilities, prohibiting “discrimination in employment, public services, public accommodations, and telecommunications.” Since then, websites all over the Internet have been taking steps to comply with the act. The Act says that websites need to function for those suffering from various disabilities. Websites need to be perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust. There are many tactics that websites can use to fulfill these requirements.
When the American Disabilities Act was first passed, its regulations were not as focused on websites. As the internet has advanced and played an increasingly central role in people’s lives, there has been a greater need for website accessibility.
The American Disabilities Act states that all “places of public accommodation” must be fully accessible. Some courts have ruled that websites do not fall into this category, while others have ruled that they do. The Third, Ninth, and Eleventh Circuit courts apply the ADA only to websites that have a connection to goods and services available at a physical location, like a retail store. Nevertheless, in order to ensure complete safety from the law, it is best to maintain an accessible website.
In 2010 the Department of Justice set new standards and declared that all websites needed to comply with these requirements by the year 2016. This change was largely a result of lawsuits, such as a case against Target in 2006, which claimed Target was not accessible to the blind. The Department of Justice has since delayed the writing of these laws until at least 2018.
How does the ADA affect my business?
In anticipation of these new laws, businesses must take steps to update their websites so that they are fully accessible on all devices. Business-owners may ask, what exactly are the changes that need to be made?
First off, all images on the website should include “alternative text.” This is a code or line of text that is hidden behind images to assist accessibility technologies. This text would make a website’s content available to a blind person, but can also increase organic traffic through Google Image searches.
Similarly, any videos located on a website must have full-text transcripts. These transcripts come with similar benefits as alternative text.
Next, website developers must optimize the colors on their site. There must be enough contrast between colors on the page for people to easily view the content. Designers should avoid color combinations that might be troublesome for colorblind individuals. Additionally, if there is any content on the page, such as an infographic, that relies on color for differentiation, this content must also be clearly labeled.
For clarity, all form fields on the website should be clearly labeled. This could be as simple as writing “Search” next to the search bar. Note that these labels must be outside of the form field, not inside of it.
Finally, an accessible website can be fully operated and accessed using only keyboard commands. Whether it be through arrow keys or tab keys, your website must not rely on the use of a mouse.
Of course, this is just a short list of suggested action items. In 2015 alone, the Department of Justice received 6,391 accessibility complaints. This goes to show just how difficult it can be to maintain a fully accessible site. However, with new laws pending, it is now more important than ever to focus on accessibility.
Can I do this on my own?
While it is definitely possible for businesses to update their websites internally, it is best to turn to the experts when it comes to the difficult issues. A respected web agency would have experience dealing with these issues, and they likely already have a tested process for auditing website code, developing a plan of attack, and executing change in websites. Hiring an ADA-focused agency to update your website may seem like a hefty expense in the short-term, but if it means avoiding hefty fines or lawsuits down the line, the investment could be entirely worth it.