When we think of making businesses accessible for the disabled, we think of such things as the inclusion of ramps or Braille on bathroom signs. But how many of us think about our websites? These sites are often overlooked in the quest for accessibility, but failure to do so can land you in legal hot water very quickly.
All public accommodations are required to abide by Title III of the Americans with Disabilities ACT (ADA). According to Title III of this act, "In providing goods and services, a public accommodation may not use eligibility requirements that exclude or segregate individuals with disabilities, unless the requirements are necessary for the operation of the public accommodation." Furthermore, the federal government is required by Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 to "ensure that the electronic and information technology that it develops, procures, maintains, or uses is accessible to persons with disabilities."
A recent National Lumber and Building Material Dealer's Association (NLBMDA) webinar, led by Ken Nakata, JD, CIPP/US, who serves as the Director of Cryptzone’s Accessibility Consulting Practice, explained the history of ADA Title III as it pertains to websites and the best ways to avoid ADA Title III violations.
The ADA can be extended to the web, where your websites must prove to be accessible for those who wish to do business there. Nakata uses the court case National Foundation for the Blind v. Target Corp. as an example of the ADA extending to the website of a business. This case argued whether the "places" where the ADA applied were strictly limited to physical places or if the internet constituted a place as well. The National Foundation for the Blind (NFB) accused Target of having a website that blind people could neither access fully nor make purchases on independently. The U.S. Federal District Court for the Northern District of California upheld the NFB's claims and Target paid a settlement of $6 million.
Let Target serve as a warning that violations of the ADA are not taken lightly and can lead to such punishments as an investigation by the Department of Justice as well as civil penalties of $75,000 for the first infraction and $150,000 for all following infractions. However, infractions and penalties may vary depending on your location as different circuits interpret the word "place" in different ways.
The only surefire way for your company not to be found liable for any type of ADA infraction is to make your site accessible, according to Nakata. There is no such thing as ADA-compliance as it relates to websites but the safest standard is WCAG 2.00. This is the agreed-upon universal design standard developed by a collaboration of industry, government, academia, and disability groups with the World Wide Web Consortium. WCAG 2.00 AA is the standard used by an increasing number of governments internationally as well as the standard that the U.S. is most likely to move to next.
In order to test the accessibility of your site, it is recommended that you hire a company with qualified testers and experience testing to WCAG 2.00 AA standards. It is also recommended that you not entirely rely on automated testing tools. The average cost of having your website assessed varies depending on the specifics of your site (number of pages in transaction, time it takes to do each page, etc.).
Aside from making your website accessible, you must include an accessibility statement on your site to which your company will adhere. Nakata explained that the accessibility statement consists of "your plans for achieving accessibility, how you are meeting your milestones, and alternate means of accessing inaccessible content." The presence of this statement on the footer of the page and every place where users can interact with the site can significantly reduce or eliminate liability.
Making your website accessible for all will help ensure that you serve all types of potential customers and keep you out of unnecessary lawsuits. As the world continues to change, so do the "places" that must be accessible for all.