It makes sense that everyone should have equal access to websites and online properties. The Internet has become an integral part of our lives, where we go to shop, learn, do our banking, and socialize. The DOJ hasn’t determined what the final set of regulations for ADA compliant websites will be yet, but there are established guidelines and standards of accessibility that can be viewed on the ADA website. Once a website meets these accessibility standards it qualifies as ADA compliant.
This past September marked the first time a judge ruled that the ADA applies even to businesses without a physical location. Scribd, an e-book subscription service is considered to provide "a place of public accommodation." Their services are not accessible to blind persons because they cannot be read with a screen reader. The judge reasoned, "Now that the Internet plays such a critical role in the personal and professional lives of Americans, excluding disabled persons from access to covered entities that use it as their principal means of reaching the public would defeat the purpose of this important civil rights legislation."
People with disabilities may use a number of special tools to interact with websites such as: screen readers, speech recognition software, touch screen devices, captioning devices (for video content), Braille, screen magnifiers, alternative keyboard devices, and head pointers. It is important to make sure your website complies with standards that make it possible for those with diverse disabilities to successfully interact with your website.
An example is Patagonia Works, Inc. which had a complaint for a permanent injunction filed against it in the United States District Court stating, Under Section 302(b)(1) of Title III of the ADA, it is unlawful discrimination to deny individuals with disabilities an opportunity to participate in or benefit from the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages or accommodations, which is equal to the opportunities afforded to other individuals. 42 U.S.C. 12182 (b)(1)(A)(ii). Below is a summary of what the lawyers asked the court for.
The ADA states that a "covered entity" shall not discriminate against "a qualified individual with a disability". This applies to job application procedures, hiring, advancement and discharge of employees, job training, and other terms, conditions, and privileges of employment. "Covered entities" include employers with 15 or more employees, as well as employment agencies, labor organizations, and joint labor-management committees. There are strict limitations on when a covered entity can ask job applicants or employees disability-related questions or require them to undergo medical examination, and all medical information must be kept confidential.
Level AA is a little more significant, and makes sites accessible to people with a wider range of disabilities, including the most common barriers to use. It won't impact the look and feel of the site as much as Level AAA compliance, though it does include guidance on color contrast and error identification. Most businesses should be aiming for Level AA conformity, and it appears to reflect the level of accessibility the DOJ expects.
If you use outside resources for your web needs, or have a dedicated web person or company, call them immediately. If you have a department or staff, even better. But— if you are working on your own, you would do yourself and your business a favor to contact a reputable web developer to discuss how to make your site accessible and avoid possible lawsuits. The older your website, the more likely it is that it is NOT compliant. Take action now!
The ADA defines a covered disability as a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a history of having such an impairment, or being regarded as having such an impairment. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) was charged with interpreting the 1990 law with regard to discrimination in employment. The EEOC developed regulations limiting an individual's impairment to one that "severely or significantly restricts" a major life activity. The ADAAA directed the EEOC to amend its regulations and replace "severely or significantly" with "substantially limits", a more lenient standard.