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ADA
Compliance FAQ

When it comes to investing in your company, knowledge powers smart decision-making. To help you understand the ease and benefit of using professional auditing services to implement accessibility improvements, we’ve answered some of the most frequently asked questions about ADA compliance for websites. Read on to grow your knowledge, then reach out to discuss how Allyada can benefit your company.

What is ADA and Section 508?

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is federal legislation aimed at improving the lives of people with disabilities by, in part, improving access to businesses in the public domain. Since its inception, the ADA has led to enforcement actions and voluntary improvements in the brick-and-mortar world, such as an increased presence of ramps and elevators, accessible parking, and restroom modifications.

Though the language of the ADA has not been directly updated to account for modern online commerce, case law has expanded the ADA’s scope to include e-commerce and website accessibility. ADA compliance in this context means maintaining a website with a user interface that allows for easy access, navigation, and use by consumers with disabilities, especially those impacted by visual impairments.

Similar to the ADA, Section 508 of the Federal Rehabilitation Act specifies accessibility standards for websites maintained by federal agencies, companies doing business with federal agencies, and companies receiving federal funds.

Why is ADA important?

On a human level, the ADA is important because it codifies our societal recognition that diversity, inclusivity, and accessibility are valuable and that people with disabilities matter as much as anyone.

On a business level, the ADA is important because it affords protections for a class of people, and among those protections is the right of an individual with disabilities to sue a business for ADA violations. It also entitles certain agencies to impose regulatory fines and other relief. Section 508 affords similar rights, though with some additional administrative steps that must be taken prior to filing a lawsuit.

With compliance woefully lagging, most online businesses are extremely vulnerable to ADA lawsuits and fines, and the number of lawsuits arising from ADA violations is increasing with urgency year over year. In addition, search engines favor ADA-compliant websites, factoring accessibility into the algorithmic formulas that determine SEO rankings.

Embracing ADA compliance is a business-savvy gift to your company that packs a whole host of benefits into one easy upgrade. From lowering your legal risks to growing your market to improving your ranking, leveraging the ADA to your advantage is smart business.

Lawsuit Statistics

By an extremely large margin (nearly 90%), most digital accessibility lawsuits target the e-commerce industry (online retailers of goods and services). In addition, lawsuits arising from ADA accessibility failures increase year over year, including those targeting the same companies repeatedly for continued violations. Law firms specializing in ADA-related digital accessibility cases have carved out a lucrative niche for themselves.

Number of lawsuits

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About ADA Compliance

Because the ADA became law in 1990, it pre-dates the modern internet. So, though it regulates accessibility around the sale of goods and services in the public domain, it is silent on issues of website accessibility and e-commerce.

When our modern world outpaces our laws, there are only two ways that existing protections can be applied to new situations: (1) the legislature can directly update existing law to apply to the new circumstance, situation, or practice, or (2) the courts can reason that the existing law does apply to the new circumstance, situation, or practice because it is within the logical umbrella of what the law was meant to accomplish in the first place.

Legislation meant to modernize the ADA’s reach is regularly contemplated in Congress and will eventually pass. For now, the courts are split when it comes to this issue. If your company is located in a jurisdiction that recognizes a direct extension of ADA protections to online commerce, your business is vulnerable, and lawsuits over this issue are increasingly prolific.

However, even if your company is within a jurisdiction that doesn’t directly extend broad protections, courts still extend protections based on considerations like whether a business maintains a physical store and how closely linked the physical store is to the online experience. So, no matter where your company is located, it is still vulnerable.

In addition, the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice (DOJ) has identified “ensuring web accessibility for people with disabilities” as a top priority, stating that companies offering “programs, services, and goods” to the public, including through websites, must ensure accessibility compliance. While the DOJ does not require strict adherence to a particular set of criteria, it points to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) and the Section 508 standards as guideposts.

The WCAG marks a global effort to standardize accessibility guidelines that private and public entities worldwide can rely on for consistent best practices, but the specifics of the guidelines are complex.

The easiest way to understand how ADA-compliant accessibility issues appear in the real world is to consider some of the barriers to accessibility identified by the DOJ, including poor color contrast, the use of color as the sole means to convey information, the use of an image to convey information without providing a textual description of the image, videos that lack captions, inaccessible forms, and site navigation solely dependent on the use of a mouse.

The takeaway is clear- website accessibility issues aren’t going away. On the contrary, lagging regulations are managed through lawsuits and fines, and across both the US and the global market, the prioritization, implementation, and enforcement of website accessibility criteria is robust and rapidly increasing. Companies that choose to be proactive rather than reactive are reaping the rewards of legal risk management, better search rankings, improved reputational clout, and advanced access to a meaningful and loyal share of the online market.