Over the past few months we’ve heard from clients asking whether their website is ADA compliant. In part, these questions have come after they received e-mails from other agencies drumming up business under the premise that a non-compliant website could be cause for a lawsuit.
The issue of website accessibility was in the news not all that long ago. Here is an article that appeared as recently as May 2019:
You may be wondering yourself, “Is my website ADA compliant?” or “How to make a website ADA compliant?” These are both great questions.
Should you be concerned about website accessibility?
In a word, YES!
Before we go down the rabbit hole of website accessibility, let me state up front, we are not lawyers and we are not giving legal advice. So please, if you’re concerned about your website, although we can perform an accessibility audit to identify any deficiencies, ultimately it is not up to us to deem your website ADA compliant.
Whether your website was launched recently or a decade ago, chances are fairly good that it does not meet the current Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.1) produced by the World Wide Web Consortium. You see, even with best intentions, the nature of the web as a continually changing medium — things have changed, and your content has likely changed over time.
Designing and developing websites for ADA compliance goes well beyond design, although that is definitely a starting point. To hire a website designer, videographer, content developer, etc. who understands accessibility concerns and WCAG standards is very important. Beyond certain design tenets and website functions that must meet the needs of all website visitors, accessibility has a lot to do with the content on your site and how it is structured.
And while a website and its content may start out in compliance, additions of new content should be reviewed to ensure it can pass muster with all website visitors. Understanding these guidelines is a business in itself, and “perhaps” you can trust that your content developer understands and is implementing under these guidelines. Odds are fairly good that your content developer knows diddly squat about ADA compliance for website accessibility. After all, the rules are not necessarily front and center (well, okay, you can read them by clicking here). WCAG is called a “Recommendation,” so we’re declaring ourselves clear as mud on how to interpret that! Click here to read the W3C Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI).
A little history, according to Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Web_Content_Accessibility_Guidelines as of this writing) about website accessibility guidelines:
- The first concept proposal of WCAG 2.0 was published on 25 January 2001.
- WCAG 2.0 was published as a W3C Recommendation on 11 December 2008.
- In October 2012, WCAG 2.0 was accepted by the International Organization for Standardization as an ISO International Standard, ISO/IEC 40500:2012.
- WCAG 2.1 became a W3C Recommendation on 5 June 2018. According to the W3C, it was:
…initiated with the goal to improve accessibility guidance for three major groups: users with cognitive or learning disabilities, users with low vision, and users with disabilities on mobile devices and is backwards-compatible with WCAG 2.0, which it extends with a further 17 success criteria.
Businesses that have an online presence should provide accessibility to disabled users. Not only are there ethical and commercial justifications for implementing the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, in some countries and jurisdictions, there are also legal reasons. Under UK law, if a business’s website is not accessible, then the website owner could be sued for discrimination.
In January 2017, the U.S. Access Board approved a final rule to update Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. The new rule adopts seventeen WCAG 2.0 success criteria, but 22 of the 38 existing A-level and AA-level criteria were already covered by existing Section 508 guidelines. The rule requires adherence to the new standards twelve months from its date of publication in the federal register.
In 2017, a Federal Court in Florida identified the WCAG guidelines as the “industry standard” for website accessibility and found that Winn Dixie Store, Inc., violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by failing to render its website accessible to the sight impaired.
So, you see, the concern is very real, and one that we take very seriously.
Today, with so much of our world wrapped up in all that is digital, as responsible website owners, we can’t turn a blind eye to something that is glaring back at us with legal ramifications.
If you haven’t already, we suggest a review of your website’s design, functionality and content from an ADA perspective.
PS: Did this article leave you wondering how seriously you should take the ADA’s website accessibility rules? Here is a great article that may help you gain more clarity on the stance you could take about making your website more accessible.
Hunton Immigration Law Blog, Hunton Andrews Kurth LLP