The ADA has been criticized on the grounds that it decreases the employment rate for people with disabilities and raises the cost of doing business for employers, in large part due to the additional legal risks, which employers avoid by quietly avoiding hiring people with disabilities. Some researchers believe that the law has been ineffectual. Between 1991 (after the enactment of the ADA) and 1995, the employment rate of men with disabilities dropped by 7.8% regardless of age, educational level, or type of disability, with the most affected being young, less-educated and mentally disabled men. Despite the many criticisms, a causal link between the ADA and declining disabled employment over much of the 1990s has not been definitively identified.
This particular lawsuit amounted to nothing more than a shakedown for cash, as the current laws would make it difficult to win the suit in court (more about this later) but it prompted me to dive deeper into the issue of ADA compliance. Through my research, I discovered there are some new laws on the horizon that could make ADA compliance mandatory, which means web designers and digital marketers need to know how to prepare.
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.
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.
UPDATE: Since writing this post in August 2017, several important changes have taken place in the laws regarding ADA compliance for websites. On December 26, 2017, the Department of Justice announced that they have withdrawn the Obama-era Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking mentioned in this article which intended to require ADA website compliance. The DOJ’s withdrawal announcement stated, “The Department will continue to assess whether specific technical standards are necessary and appropriate to assist covered entities with complying with the ADA.”
Staples were to use good faith efforts to ensure that all pages of www.Staples.com would substantially comply with the priority one and two checkpoints of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 1.0) by no later than June 30, 2009. This was before the introduction of WCAG 2.0, therefore Staples had the opportunity to choose either version 1.0 or 2.0 of WCAG after supersession. If WCAG 2.0 would be selected, according to the agreement, Staples would have to meet conformance level AA.
This is the reason why I think web design firms have to position themselves as solution providers and not just web guys/gals. A client doesn't need a website, they need sales. The website is just part of that solution but it's not the solution and unlike web design, service like email marketing automation, SEO, and PPC requires an experienced professional.
Until the ADA is updated to address the special case of website accessibility, or the Department of Justice releases its website accessibility regulations, complying with WCAG 2.0 Level AA is the best way to ensure that people with disabilities have equal access to your website. The overview below is a great starting point about meeting the WCAG 2.0 Level AA recommendations.
Tennessee v. Lane, 541 U.S. 509 (2004), was a case in the Supreme Court of the United States involving Congress's enforcement powers under section 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment. George Lane was unable to walk after a 1997 car accident in which he was accused of driving on the wrong side of the road. A woman was killed in the crash, and Lane faced misdemeanor charges of reckless driving. The suit was brought about because he was denied access to appear in criminal court because the courthouse had no elevator, even though the court was willing to carry him up the stairs and then willing to move the hearing to the first floor. He refused, citing he wanted to be treated as any other citizen, and was subsequently charged with failure to appear, after appearing at a previous hearing where he dragged himself up the stairs. The court ruled that Congress did have enough evidence that the disabled were being denied those fundamental rights that are protected by the Due Process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and had the enforcement powers under section 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment. It further ruled that "reasonable accommodations" mandated by the ADA were not unduly burdensome and disproportionate to the harm.
Blind people, those with low vision, and people with other disabilities that affect their ability to read a computer display often use different technologies so they can access the information displayed on a webpage. Two commonly used technologies are screen readers and refreshable Braille displays. As discussed above, a screen reader is a computer program that speaks the text that appears on the computer display, beginning in the top-left corner. A refreshable Braille display is an electronic device that translates text into Braille characters that can be read by touch. These assistive technologies read text. They cannot translate images into speech or Braille, even if words appear in the images. For example, these technologies cannot interpret a photograph of a stop sign, even if the word “stop” appears in the image.
Every year numerous lawsuits are taken against businesses that fail to follow the ADA’s proposed requirements for web accessibility. This failure occurs because organizations, including state and local government entities, fail to read the ADA Best Practices Tool Kit.8 They also do not follow the most up to date version of the WCAG.9 These two failures are not only detrimental to people with disabilities who want to effectively browse the web, but they are also inexcusable in today’s digitally driven world.
In short, the ADA is meant to protect disabled individuals as they go about their daily lives. These regulations ensure that people with disabilities are not denied entry into the above places or denied services by a company due to their disability. It is important to note that these regulations are now applicable to services that are provided online or through other digital formats. For example, if a company accepts job applications online, then it must ensure that a person with a disability can also apply for the job online. In other words, it is illegal to have barriers on the website that would keep the disabled individual from successfully completing their application. Fortunately, the ADA guidelines help to remove barriers and ensure that the Internet remains a space that people of all backgrounds and disabilities can use.
"III-3.6000 Retaliation or coercion. Individuals who exercise their rights under the ADA, or assist others in exercising their rights, are protected from retaliation. The prohibition against retaliation or coercion applies broadly to any individual or entity that seeks to prevent an individual from exercising his or her rights or to retaliate against him or her for having exercised those rights ... Any form of retaliation or coercion, including threats, intimidation, or interference, is prohibited if it is intended to interfere."
One of the first major ADA lawsuits, Paralyzed Veterans of America v. Ellerbe Becket Architects and Engineers (PVA 1996) was focused on the wheelchair accessibility of a stadium project that was still in the design phase, MCI Center (now known as Capital One Arena) in Washington, D.C. Previous to this case, which was filed only five years after the ADA was passed, the DOJ was unable or unwilling to provide clarification on the distribution requirements for accessible wheelchair locations in large assembly spaces. While Section 4.33.3 of ADAAG makes reference to lines of sight, no specific reference is made to seeing over standing patrons. The MCI Center, designed by Ellerbe Becket Architects & Engineers, was designed with too few wheelchair and companion seats, and the ones that were included did not provide sight lines that would enable the wheelchair user to view the playing area while the spectators in front of them were standing. This case and another related case established precedent on seat distribution and sight lines issues for ADA enforcement that continues to present day.
There have been some notable cases regarding the ADA. For example, two major hotel room marketers (Expedia.com and Hotels.com) with their business presence on the Internet were sued because its customers with disabilities could not reserve hotel rooms, through their websites without substantial extra efforts that persons without disabilities were not required to perform. These represent a major potential expansion of the ADA in that this, and other similar suits (known as "bricks vs. clicks"), seeks to expand the ADA's authority to cyberspace, where entities may not have actual physical facilities that are required to comply.
The Department of Justice may file lawsuits in federal court to enforce the ADA Compliance, and courts may order compensatory damages and back pay to remedy discrimination if the Department prevails. Under title III, the Department of Justice may also obtain civil penalties of up to $55,000 for the first violation and $110,000 for any subsequent violation of ADA Compliance.
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