What Are The ADA Compliance Requirements For Websites?

  • 3.02.2022

Websites and the ADA

The Internet was still in its nascent stages when the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed in 1990. At that time, it was difficult to envision the resource being as essential in global relationships and business as it is now. As a result, while the ADA granted reasonable accommodations to employees with disabilities, similar to what the Civil Rights Act of 1964 did for protection from discrimination based on race, religion, gender, or national origin, the Internet as a workplace was not bound by the ADA’s provisions.

The relationship between the ADA and websites has therefore been laced with ambiguity and misperceptions as the Act fails to address online compliance in a definitive and clear manner. The ADA provides that every owner, lessor, or operator of a place of public accommodation should provide access to users who meet ADA standards for disability. Let’s dig into exactly what that means and what businesses must do to ensure their websites are compliant.

The Law, Websites, and the ADA

From a legal point of view, this requirement presents uncertainties as far as the Internet and websites are concerned. This ambiguity has made the matter find its way into American courts for interpretation, with several of them ruling that websites are subsumed within the ADA’s scope of public accommodation infrastructure. Others have concluded that websites are bound by ADA regulations if a close nexus exists between them and a physical location, while others have decided that the current framing of the ADA offers no protection for online users. Clear as mud, isn’t it?

The hullabaloo that these disparate conclusions by the courts convey regarding the issue of ADA compliance for websites has been vexing for people with disabilities and business owners alike. This has been exacerbated by the fact that the US Department of Justice has not released any official principal parameters regarding the admission of the ADA into the online space. As a result, it is difficult to provide definitive observations on the governing of websites by ADA Compliance.

The foregoing can show you that it’s not clear how and whether ADA recommendations are applicable to websites. Nonetheless, it is advisable to be on the right side of the debate as the volume of accessibility-related lawsuits filed against websites that are successful is an indicator that disregarding the question of ADA Compliance is a gamble that can be very costly for a business or organization. It is also worth noting that the volume of digital accessibility lawsuits has continued to rise by about 30% annually for the past five years. The exposure to lawsuits for businesses continues to grow, and the penalty for these lawsuits is steep.

Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act and the ADA

Given the uncertainty about the website accessibility space, the US Congress put its foot down in 1998 and amended Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act. This was a game-changer because it targeted where results would be impactful: federal government spending! It has become mandatory for all information, communication, and technology (ICT) to be accessible to people with disabilities. It also became mandatory for state and local government agencies, private businesses with 15 employees or more, and institutions operating public-benefit services to procure, create, use, and maintain ICT that is accessible to people with disabilities.

The novelty of the amendment to Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act has made accessibility expand everywhere because of the network effect of accessing federal government funds and business opportunities. Federal regulations eventually required federal websites to adhere to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0), Level AA. This is the level that provides the basis for online accessibility rules for most of Europe and other countries globally. Subsequent updates of WCAG have sought to deepen accessibility and deliver the gains inherent in the ADA for people with disabilities. Therefore, a website must conform to WCAG, which currently serves as the ADA Compliance Manual.

WCAG as the ADA Compliance Manual for Websites

Since the federal rules held federal websites to WCAG, ADA guidelines for websites have been reflected in AWCAG. This implies that WCAG’s four criteria underlie ADA compliance for websites: perceivability, operability, understandability, and robustness. These four criteria are present in all WCAG versions. To be ADA compliant, a website must adhere to the sixteen WCAG requirements, which are as follows:

  • The essence of specifying text alternatives (alts) for every non-text element;
  • Harmonization of similar alts relating to multimedia items with every presentation;
  • Developing web pages in a manner that enables that all content that is delivered with color is also offered without color;
  • Arranging of documents in a manner that makes them universally decipherable without compelling an separately styled sheet;
  • Having redundant text links for each active region of a server-side image map;
  • Having client-side image maps in the place of server-side image maps, except in places that cannot be defined with an existing geometric shape;
  • Row and column headers to have identifiers for data tables;
  • Markups to be used in associating data cells and header cells for data tables with two or more logical levels of row and column headers;
  • Frames to be titled with text that helps in frame identification and navigation;
  • Pages to be designed with a hindsight of not causing screens to flicker with a frequency greater than 2 Hz and lower than 55 Hz;
  • A text-only page to be provided with equivalent information or functionality so as to make the website conform when such cannot be ensured in any other way, and that the content of the text-only page should be updated when the key page changes;
  • The information provided with functional texts to be read by assistive technology when pages utilize scripting language to display content or to create interface elements to be identified;
  • A link to be provided to a plug-in or applet in a way that complies with Section 508 Part B – 1194.21 (a) through (l) when a web page requires that an applet, plug-in, or other application be used on the client system to interpret page content;
  • When electronic forms are designed to be completed on-line, allowance should be made for people using assistive technology to access the information, field elements, and functionality necessary for completing and submitting such forms, including the directions and cues;
  • A method that permits users to skip repetitive navigation links to be provided; and
  • When a timed response is required, the user should be alerted and given enough time to specify their need for more time.

Click Here to start your free Website ADA Compliance Test. To learn more about the process of getting a manual audit of your website, please feel free to get in touch here or call (626) 486-2201 and one of our accessibility specialists will be happy to help you.