Does My Website Have to Be ADA Compliant?

Lawsuits for ADA website non-compliance have risen dramatically over the last few years. Companies and organizations of all sizes have been targeted, leaving no one immune to a possible lawsuit.

The entire topic of ADA website compliance may have you confused and unsure of how to proceed. You’ve probably heard conflicting information regarding which websites need to be ADA compliant and you may not be sure how to make that happen.

Keep reading for more information on website ADA compliance, the law and how to make sure your website is ADA compliant.

The Law Is Unclear

First, no specific state or federal laws govern ADA compliance for websites. That hasn’t stopped plaintiffs from successfully suing business owners, organizations, universities and even charities for website non-ADA compliance.

When President George Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) into law in 1990, the internet was not the powerful source of information and commerce that it is now. However, there is one section of the act, Title III, that addresses equal access to places of public accommodation. At the time it meant equal access to brick and mortar buildings for those with disabilities.

In 2018, the Department of Justice issued a letter stating that in their view, websites are a part of public accommodation according to Title III of the ADA. Today, the majority of court rulings also interpret the language of that section the same way.

Even the Supreme Court has weighed in on ADA website compliance. Domino’s Pizza asked the court to hear a case brought against it by a vision-impaired user who could not order from the company’s online menu. The Supreme Court refused to hear the case, leaving in place a lower court ruling in favor of the plaintiff that the website was indeed non-ADA compliant.

There may be not specific laws governing website ADA compliance, but there are guidelines. These are provided by the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI). This international organization provides standards for technical and design elements to help make websites accessible to users with disabilities.

The guidelines are known as Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) and are broken up into three categories, Level A, AA, and AAA.

WCAG 2.1 Levels A and AA guidelines are the current standard for website ADA compliance.

Separating Truth From Fiction for ADA compliance

There’s a lot of misinformation regarding ADA compliance. Some of the most common myths are:

  • Small companies with less than 15 employees don’t need to be ADA compliant – False. This is one of the most prevalent myths. Many small business owners who thought they were safe from ADA non-compliance lawsuits received rude awakenings by way of unexpected lawsuits.
  • If my business doesn’t have a physical location, I don’t have to worry about ADA non-compliance lawsuits – False again. Plenty of businesses without physical addresses have been successfully sued for website non-ADA compliance.
  • I can make my website ADA compliant in a day or two by using inexpensive automated tools – Not true. There are no shortcuts to making sure your website is 100% ADA compliant. Automated tools can help, but they can’t catch every issue. 

What is true is a manual website accessibility audit is essential to identify non-ADA compliant elements on your website. ADA compliance must be complete in following all WCAG 2.0 Level A and AA guidelines. Just one non-compliant element makes your entire website non-ADA compliant.

What Can Happen If My Website Isn’t ADA Compliant?

If you choose to ignore the need to make your website ADA compliant, it can cost you, and not just financially. First, there’s the increased potential of being sued. Those expenses can include:

  • Your legal fees for an attorney who specializes in ADA compliance cases.
  • Any damages (compensation) you might have to pay the plaintiff whether it be via a settlement or verdict.
  • Depending on the case, you could also be ordered to pay the defendant’s legal fees.

You’ll risk losing more potential customers than you realize too. Disabled users are not a tiny minority of people. The CDC reports that as of 2018, 1 in 4 Americans have a disability that impacts their daily lives. As our population ages, that number is sure to go up.

If 1 in 4 users can’t access your website, a percentage of them are going to voice their displeasure on social media and name your company. That can quickly hurt your brand and by extension, your business and be tough to overcome.

In summary, it’s important to make sure your website is ADA compliant. The cost of hiring someone to run a complete website accessibility audit pales in comparison to the cost of defending yourself from a lawsuit for non-ADA compliance. You’ll also rest easy knowing your website is compliant and now attracts a broader range of visitors.