The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), signed into law in 1990, prevents discrimination against a group that has historically faced many barriers. The ADA makes it illegal in this country for any government or business to provide goods and services to the public that are not also accessible to people who have disabilities.
In many situations, however, it can be challenging to establish just what is meant by accessible. That’s why the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), which enforces the ADA, has issued a Supplemental Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (SANPRM) to incorporate web accessibility into the standards. Organizations are encouraged to use the WCAG 2.0 level AA technical requirements as a guide for digital accessibility.
The DOJ’s public position was clarified in the following statement made during the Netflix case:
“The Department is currently developing regulations specifically addressing the accessibility of goods and services offered via the web by entities covered by the ADA. The fact that the regulatory process is not yet complete in no way indicates that web services are not already covered by title III.”
These ADA guidelines for web accessibility are an important and useful reference. But they may also evolve over time, so it’s important to stay up to date on the recommendations that are most relevant to your organization.
Organizations Covered Under the ADA
A wide range of agencies and companies are covered under the ADA. This includes state and local governments (Title II regulations), and what are termed “public accommodations” (Title III regulations) – which are, essentially, any business or non-profit organization that serves the public. Title III covers a lot of ground, including restaurants, theaters and schools, ensuring that individuals cannot be denied entry to these places, or denied service by these companies, solely based on a disability. This includes services that are provided through a website or other digital format.
The reasoning is that if other people can file tax returns online, or apply for a job through an employment website, or place a product order outside of regular business hours, then it’s unfair to have barriers in place that make it impossible for people with disabilities to do these very same things. It’s especially unjust when the know-how to do away with these barriers already exists. That’s where the ADA guidelines come in, helping to ensure those barriers are eliminated.
Why Web Accessibility Makes a Difference
It’s become routine for government departments, businesses and organizations to connect with customers, clients and residents online. It also drives ecommerce. Invesp, a conversion optimization firm projects that in 2018 almost 9% of all retail spending in the U.S.1 – the highest this number has ever been – will take place online.
If a website isn’t accessible then it’s excluding over 60 million Americans with disabilities.
The Click-Away Pound survey2, a collaboration of several groups including the Business Disability Forum, demonstrated that in the United Kingdom alone, retailers lost £11.75 billion (over $15 billion U.S.) last year because of inaccessible websites.
Over 71% of customers will leave a website that doesn’t meet their accessibility needs. On the flip side, four out of five customers with disabilities would spend more if a website’s accessibility was improved.
According to ADA regulations3, it is acceptable for an organization with an inaccessible website to provide an alternative method of accommodating people with disabilities, just as long as this alternative delivers an equal level of service. In today’s digitally-driven world this would be difficult to achieve, considering that websites are available at any time of day or night, and from virtually anywhere, since all that’s needed is an Internet connection. The alternative for people with disabilities would also need to be open for business around the clock, and be available regardless of whether the person is sitting at home or sitting on a park bench.
It’s much simpler, and considerably less costly, to improve web accessibility for all. A website that follows accessibility guidelines and is barrier-free also tells customers with disabilities that they’re valued, and their business is welcome.
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