When the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed more than 25 years ago, it was a historic moment for a lot of people.
ADA compliance helps anyone who is part of the American disability community. This is no small group, after all. It comprises over 50 million people1 across the country.
With the signing of the ADA in 1990, people with disabilities in the United States were guaranteed legal protection against discrimination as they went about their daily lives – working, shopping, participating in sports or spending time with their families.
Organizations were obliged to follow the law, and ADA compliance became an important consideration when buildings were designed or when programs such as educational opportunities or correctional services were set up.
What Is ADA Accessible?
The meaning of being ADA accessible has changed a lot in 25 years. In 1990, the ADA compliance definition may have included putting wheelchair ramps in front of stores, having accessible toilets and bathrooms, providing college brochures in alternate format, offering sign language interpreters at conferences, or installing elevators in office buildings. Internet use, however, was almost nonexistent.
In fact, the U.S. Census Bureau didn’t even start tracking household use of the Internet until 1997, when it was documented at a mere 18%. Today, more than five-sixths of Americans are online. And websites are now an integral part of the way organizations interact with their clients and customers.
Complying with the ADA should not only include physical spaces, but also websites. Thus it’s critical to ask yourself – are you on track to follow the ADA disability guidelines, or are you opening yourself up for customer complaints?
Complaints Are More Costly Than Meeting ADA Standards
No organization wants to trigger complaints about the way it does business. Consider the insights from a survey by Customer Champions,2 a United Kingdom-based firm focused on improving the customer experience.
The firm found that when complaints aren’t dealt with to a customer’s satisfaction, that customer will willfully refrain from giving a company their business for an average of 10 years (male customers) or even 20 years (female customers)!
There’s bound to be added impact, too, if these people happen to tell their friends about their negative customer experience, or post comments about it on social media.
Complaints can cost organizations in other ways as well, not only in terms of lost business. When organizations are forced to handle and resolve complaints, or defend themselves against them, it consumes resources and time.
Employees must engage in responding to the complaints, and take steps to remedy them in a manner that’s acceptable to the customer. It’s even possible for a complaint to escalate to litigation or a class-action lawsuit.
Compliance, on the other hand, means you’re serving your customers well from the get-go. You’re treating every individual fairly and equitably, giving everyone the same opportunities to enjoy your goods, services or programs.
Particularly in the case of ADA compliance, it means you’re not discriminating against those who have disabilities. You’re fulfilling your obligations under the law.
The Americans with Disabilities Act may be a U.S. law, but it’s worth noting that in Canada, too, it pays to care about whether you’re ADA compliant. Federal and provincial human rights legislation – and, in Ontario, the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) – make it illegal to discriminate against people with disabilities.
ADA Requirements Apply to Technology
Although the large-scale domination of the web is relatively recent, plaintiffs have already won cases alleging discrimination on the basis of disability because of digital barriers.
While there are no specific ADA requirements written into the legislation about what that means, it’s understood that digital products and services must meet the needs of people with disabilities.
If it sounds daunting to ensure that your organization is complying with the ADA and other laws such as Section 508, rest assured that there are several resources available to make it simpler.
The U.S. Department of Justice offers an ADA compliance checklist for websites to help you identify any areas of your website or online services that may require accessibility improvements, and includes specific actions you can take to correct them.
It additionally publishes an ADA guidelines toolkit to help you further understand the barriers that people with disabilities commonly encounter online.
There’s also a universally accepted set of standards, called Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0, available for reference. Additionally, you can hire consultants with specific expertise in digital accessibility.
Here’s yet another resource that can make ADA compliance easier: a tax incentive. The IRS gives tax credits or deductions to businesses that spend money to improve accessibility for their customers with disabilities.3
Consider that you’re also likely to profit from a wider customer base – people with disabilities have more than four times the buying power of the lucrative “tween” market, and have influence over a wide network of family and friends – and you’ve got plenty more incentive.
Isn’t that enough to convince you to strive for ADA compliance, rather than complaints?
ADA Compliance Checklist
When it comes to web accessibility, ADA compliance best practices point to the WCAG 2.0 technical guidelines. The guidelines have three levels of conformance, level A, AA and AAA. Organizations are encouraged to have their website achieve a level AA status.
For a deeper dive into the web content accessibility guidelines and how they benefit your organization, download our resource guide, where you will:
- Learn about the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0
- Understand why your organization should implement the guidelines and ADA compliance
- Receive a WCAG 2.0 checklist
- CDC: 53 million adults in the US live with a disability. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
- Cost of customer complaints. Customer Champions.
- Tax Incentives For Businesses. US Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division.