Checking Compliance with the ADA: This is the Gold Standard

Web designer checked for ADA compliance

We’ve mentioned in previous articles that it’s not enough to believe or assume your website is in compliance with the ADA. You must make a point of routinely evaluating it for compliance. Otherwise, you may be in violation of the law without even realizing it. Not only are you turning away the business of people with disabilities who find they can’t operate key functions on your website or use your app, such as placing an order online, booking an appointment or conducting a financial transaction, there’s also a real risk you might face litigation.

The ADA, or Americans with Disabilities Act, is a federal law that requires all businesses and public services and facilities to provide the same level of service to people with disabilities as they do to the general public. Although this legislation does not spell out the need to make websites and apps accessible – the ADA came into force in 1990, when the Internet was not yet in widespread use – a string of Department of Justice decisions and statements in recent years have made it clear that digital accessibility matters. Unless there is some alternative to the website that is just as useful and available that can be used by people with various disabilities, organizations are obliged to ensure that their digital properties are accessible to all members of the public.

Increasing Numbers of Lawsuits

Companies that have not complied with the ADA in designing their websites and apps are increasingly being held accountable by the disability community. According to an analysis by Seyfarth Shaw, an international legal firm, at least 814 federal lawsuits were filed in 2017 in response to inaccessible websites, more than ever before1. In fact, every year has seen the number ADA lawsuits climbing.

Had any of the defendants in these cases made the effort to check their websites properly for accessibility barriers, and fix any problems uncovered through this process, they could certainly have avoided litigation.

In 2018, these lawsuits continued to grow in number. By the year’s midpoint, Seyfarth Shaw reported that already more web accessibility lawsuits had been filed – at least 1,053 – than the entire previous year. The firm projected that we’d see over 2,000 such lawsuits launched by the end of 20182.

Who’s Behind the Complaints?

Plaintiffs who file website accessibility lawsuits are typically not out for a quick money grab. These are not frivolous complaints. Rather, in the majority of cases these are people or groups with disabilities who have been frustrated by their inability to use websites that were designed to be easy for everyone else. They are aware that this is both unfair and a violation of their civil rights. And they have made the decision to take action in order to compel these companies to remove online barriers.

Our society increasingly depends on the web for all aspects of daily life such as making purchases, registering for school or paying bills. And companies increasingly rely on their websites to communicate with and serve the public. When online barriers get in the way, people with disabilities are excluded from these everyday functions.

It’s all the more dispiriting when you know there’s an entire support structure already in place to make it possible to improve digital accessibility. The technology exists to make websites and apps fully accessible. A set of criteria, and instructions for how to meet them, have already been produced to guide the process. The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 and WCAG 2.1 are currently the go-to requirements for digital accessibility). And professionals are available to test against WCAG to ensure ADA compliance, and make recommendations accordingly.

How to Check for ADA Compliance

If you believe it’s in your best interests – and that of your customers – to check for ADA compliance before you receive complaints (or litigation), know that it’s not as onerous as you might expect. You don’t need to school yourself in the WCAG success criteria. Rather, an accessibility partner with expertise in digital compliance can ensure that your website conforms to WCAG 2.0 or 2.1, Level AA. (This is the standard that is generally accepted when responsibilities under the ADA are discussed before the courts.)

Here’s how it works: Your accessibility partner will methodically conduct a series of automated, manual and functional tests on your digital properties. Upon completion of this extensive evaluation, they will issue a report explaining how and where any barriers occur, and recommend ways to resolve them.

Compared to other approaches, this one has the highest likelihood of finding accessibility barriers that people with disabilities might encounter when trying to interact with your web pages and apps. Many experts also offer additional services such as ongoing monitoring. This is valuable because digital content can change, especially as websites are updated or web accessibility problems are eliminated.

What about Automated ADA Compliance Checkers?

You may wonder if there are other faster or cheaper ways you can check for ADA compliance and ensure you’re not breaking this law. There are a number of paid and free automated checkers that you can use to get an overall sense of whether or not your web pages meet certain accessibility requirements. But you can’t depend on these, as they’re missing key elements. They’re less thorough – they don’t check for every barrier – and they’re less accurate. In fact, automated testing tools are known to only capture upto 30% of accessibility errors.

Although your accessibility partner will likely use automated checking tools as part of their full evaluation, they will never rely solely on them. There is no replacement for the human testing and expert judgment that are required in order to conduct a thorough evaluation. Thus when it comes to checking compliance with the ADA, this approach, in our professional opinion, is the gold standard.

An Innovative Solution

eSSENTIAL ACCESSIBILITY has developed a comprehensive accessibility solution to help organizations follow the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) and achieve and maintain compliance with standards and regulations. This includes integrating web compliance evaluation and remediation services with assistive technology to deliver a transformative experience for people with disabilities. Learn more about eSSENTIAL ACCESSIBILITY’s innovative solution.

References

  1. 2017 Website Accessibility Lawsuit Recap: A Tought Year for Business Sefarth Shaw, 2018
  2. Website Access and Other ADA Title III Lawsuits Hit Record Numbers Sefarth Shaw, 2018

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