Any business that is considered a “place of public accommodation” is required to provide equal access to services under the nondiscrimination requirements of Title III of ADA. When you look at the guidelines closely, this includes hotels, entertainment venues, legal and accounting firms, retail stores, and virtually every business that is not a private club, including businesses that exist solely on the web.
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Ultimately, the DoJ’s letter has placed the burden back on Congress to legislate regarding ADA website accessibility. However, it is unlikely that it will take any action any time soon. While the DOJ’s letter is helpful for businesses, it will not stop these ADA website accessibility lawsuits. Therefore, businesses should take proactive steps toward making their websites accessible. Employers must also remember that their failure to make online job applications accessible to blind or disabled job applicants may subject them to liability under Title I of the ADA, which prohibits discrimination in hiring decisions, and which carries with it additional remedies such as compensatory damages (to pay a plaintiff for out-of-pocket expenses caused by the discrimination and compensate him/her for any emotional harm suffered), and punitive damages.
Because of this, among the greatest drivers of website accessibility are usability improvements and the reputation boost that it brings—or, alternatively, the lost business that organizations want to avoid as a result of inaccessible websites. According to a survey by the National Business Disability Council at the Viscardi Center, 91 percent of customers say that they’d prefer to shop at a website that prioritizes accessibility.
Title II applies to public transportation provided by public entities through regulations by the U.S. Department of Transportation. It includes the National Railroad Passenger Corporation (Amtrak), along with all other commuter authorities. This section requires the provision of paratransit services by public entities that provide fixed-route services. ADA also sets minimum requirements for space layout in order to facilitate wheelchair securement on public transport.
The Department first articulated its interpretation that the ADA applies to public accommodations’ websites over 20 years ago. This interpretation is consistent with the ADA’s title III requirement that the goods, services, privileges, or activities provided by places of public accommodation be equally accessible to people with disabilities. Additionally, the Department has consistently taken the position that the absence of a specific regulation does not serve as a basis for noncompliance with a statute’s requirements. Absent the adopting of specific technical requirements for websites through rulemaking, public accommodations have flexibility in how to comply with the ADA’s general requirements of nondiscrimination and effective communication. Accordingly, noncompliance with a voluntary technical standard for website accessibility does not necessarily indicate noncompliance with the ADA…. Given Congress’ ability to provide greater clarity through the legislative process, we look forward to working with you to continue these efforts.
The truth is, when you’re assembling like a furniture, you’re not a professional furniture builder, and therefore the quality and the output is not going to be as good. And that metaphor applies to website design. Most people are not professional digital marketers or designers or understand user personas, or how to get traffic, or any of those things. And so, not only are you using all of your time to build the website but then you’re not getting as high-quality an output as you would as if you just hired someone who did that full time.
Why was Amazon sued to begin with? Believe it or not, it was the Kindle converter for documents. Amazon has developed its own converter (MobiPocket) to digitize all the documents, books, and magazines that are shown on Kindle. But the problem is that Amazon’s converter was making it difficult for people with disabilities to access any items other than super basic documents.
The fastest, most certain way to be sure your website is in compliance is to contact a qualified web design agency and have them perform an audit of all your online properties. Make sure you interview the agency thoroughly first, as not all agencies are up to speed on ADA website compliance rules. A qualified web design firm will be able to identify any violations of ADA Website Compliance and outline a plan for updating your online content and properties.
The ADA provides explicit coverage for service animals. Guidelines have been developed not only to protect persons with disabilities but also to indemnify businesses from damages related to granting access to service animals on their premises. Businesses are allowed to ask if the animal is a service animal and ask what tasks it is trained to perform, but they are not allowed to ask the service animal to perform the task nor ask for a special ID of the animal. They cannot ask what the person's disabilities are. A person with a disability cannot be removed from the premises unless either of two things happen: the animal is out of control and its owner cannot get it under control (e.g. a dog barking uncontrollably in a restaurant), or the animal is a direct threat to people's health and safety. Allergies and fear of animals would not be considered a threat to people's health and safety, so it would not be a valid reason to deny access to people with service animals. Businesses that prepare or serve food must allow service animals and their owners on the premises even if state or local health laws otherwise prohibit animals on the premises. In this case, businesses that prepare or serve food are not required to provide care or food for service animals, nor do they have to provide a designated area for the service animal to relieve itself. Lastly, people that require service dogs cannot be charged an extra fee for their service dog or be treated unfairly, for example, being isolated from people at a restaurant. People with disabilities cannot be treated as "less than" other customers. However, if a business normally charges for damages caused by the person to property, the customer with a disability will be charged for his/her service animal's damages to the property.
Webpage designers often have aesthetic preferences and may want everyone to see their webpages in exactly the same color, size and layout. But because of their disability, many people with low vision do not see webpages the same as other people. Some see only small portions of a computer display at one time. Others cannot see text or images that are too small. Still others can only see website content if it appears in specific colors. For these reasons, many people with low vision use specific color and font settings when they access the Internet – settings that are often very different from those most people use. For example, many people with low vision need to use high contrast settings, such as bold white or yellow letters on a black background. Others need just the opposite – bold black text on a white or yellow background. And, many must use softer, more subtle color combinations.
Certain specific conditions that are widely considered anti-social, or tend to result in illegal activity, such as kleptomania, pedophilia, exhibitionism, voyeurism, etc. are excluded under the definition of "disability" in order to prevent abuse of the statute's purpose. Additionally, gender identity or orientation is no longer considered a disorder and is also excluded under the definition of "disability".
The ADA guidelines provide the foundation that organizations need to achieve digital accessibility best approaches, however they are not exhaustive. They do not provide direction for all of the accessibility challenges that people with disabilities face. They also fail to provide detailed technical instructions. With these limitations in mind, there is a ray of hope.
According to the DOJ, “Being unable to access websites puts individuals with disabilities at a great disadvantage in today’s society.” With these words in mind, the DOJ has rapidly adopted the role of web accessibility enforcer. A failure to make digital content, including websites, accessible to all individuals regardless of their emotional, physical, or mental disabilities, can result in hefty fines and class action lawsuits. In short, the DOJ is dedicated to making sure that individuals with disabilities have the same equal access to the benefits that are available online. Creating equal access is only possible if organizations a) understand the requirements of web accessibility, b) know that web accessibility is an obligation under the ADA, and c) make web accessibility a priority. The value that awaits when organizations adhere to digital accessibility laws can be measured in more than dollars and cents.