I’m sure everyone is familiar with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). It’s the comprehensive civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life. Title III of the legislation covers private sector businesses and non-profits—everything from parking, bathrooms, and wheelchair ramps to counter heights, aisle widths, and so much more. Title III stipulates that all public businesses are required by law to remove any “access barriers” that would keep a disabled person from accessing a business’s goods or services. At the time of the bill’s writing, these barriers were generally thought of as physical barriers.
In 1990 when the ADA was signed into law, the Internet was in its infancy. There was no way to know how intertwined the web would become with the way we go about our work almost 30 years later. As your business increasingly turns towards a bigger digital presence, and your website begins to become as important as your brick and mortar establishment, these digital barriers are becoming of greater concern to many. Some disabled persons have brought lawsuits against companies whose websites are not accessible. Because of the way their digital and physical business is intertwined, judges have ruled in favor of the disabled, requiring the company to make the necessary changes.
So how do you remove these barriers and create web content that is accessible to anyone and everyone? Look to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), written and recently updated in June of 2018 by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). These guidelines specify three tiers of compliance: A, AA, and AAA. Each tier has four core principles for conformity with increasing levels of scrutiny for each tier:
- Content is Perceivable
- Web content is made available to the senses—sight, hearing, and/or touch
- Content is Operable
- Interface forms, controls, and navigation are operable
- Content is Understandable
- Content and interface are understandable
- Content is Robust
- Content can be used reliably by a wide variety of user agents, including assistive technologies
BOLTGROUP recently used these guidelines and principles to develop an ADA compliant website for our client, Commercial Credit Group. They needed to refocus their website on their markets, their products, and the services they provide. Working closely with the client to understand their needs, we translated that information into an updated site that is accessible to all, while maintaining the brand’s personality, pillars, and promise.
Over time, websites have grown increasingly indispensable. As they become more ingrained in everyday business, they will be subject to growing litigation and legislation to provide the same level of information and interaction to all people. Successful companies will get ahead of the curve and expand their level of accessibility now.
There has been some jockeying from recent presidential administrations, for and against implementation of WCAG guidelines. This can make your required level of accountability hard to understand. The Obama administration gave advanced notice in 2010 that they would be implementing amended language into ADA Title III to include website accessibility in 2018. In December of 2017, the Department of Justice under the Trump administration announced that they would be withdrawing the Obama-era Advance Notice. This has, for now, put any formal ratification of the WCAG on hold.
In February 2018, Congress passed the ADA Education and Reform Act, designed to make it more difficult to sue for discrimination. Those behind the bill say the law will help reduce “frivolous” lawsuits, while opponents argue that this law will gut the ADA, essentially giving businesses little reason to follow the ADA guidelines at all.
For now, it’s up to individual companies to make their own determination whether or not it makes sense to employ changes that meet ADA guidelines.