Many businesses do not realize that their websites and mobile apps must comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. If your website and apps are not accessible to persons with vision and hearing disabilities, you risk a federal lawsuit.
Although Congress never mentioned websites in Title III of the ADA, which covers public accommodations, U.S. courts have interpreted Title III to apply to websites.
In 2020, there were about 3,500 ADA website lawsuits filed in federal courts, an increase of about 23% from 2019 when 2,890 complaints were filed. As more lawyers learn of this cash cow and recognize how easy it is to win these lawsuits, a new wave of litigation threatens to sweep the nation.
Private businesses usually are not sued for damages, but they can be sued for attorney fees and the cost of compliance, even if they did not understand the law applied to them. The law does not require that businesses be notified of ADA compliance violations in advance of being served with a lawsuit.
Small businesses may be eligible for a tax credit to help finance ADA compliance. See this article: Tax credit available to small businesses for making websites ADA-compliant
If a sued business does not fix its website fast enough or well enough, it can be sued again. According to research by UsableNet Inc., there is a one in five chance that a company will receive a second lawsuit within 12 months of the first complaint.
Web Content Accessibility Guidelines
According to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) issued by the World Wide Web Consortium, an international community of web developers and users, websites should be:
- Perceivable – information and content must be presented and available to everyone, including with persons with disabilities.
- Operable – the website interface must not require interaction that persons with disabilities cannot perform.
- Understandable – both the information and operation of the user interface must be readily understandable to everyone.
- Robust – the website must be accessible through a wide variety of user agents and technologies such as screen readers and browsers. For example, you can’t just have an accessible website in Firefox, but not Chrome.
- Alt Text – Add alt text to all meaningful images on your website. The text should explain what the picture is about. This also applies to PDFs.
- Closed Captioning – All videos on your website must have closed captioning.
- Text Transcripts – Add a text transcript beneath all video-only and audio-only files.
- No Images of Text – All text must be readable by a screen reader.
Limited or No Automatic Content
- Content Options: WCAG does give you the option of having pop-ups, scrolling, and blinking content so long as you give the user the ability to pause, stop, or hide them.
- Static Website Forms: Forms must be fully controllable by the user.
- Your website must be fully accessible without a mouse, by using the arrow or tab buttons. If you can unplug your mouse and still completely access and engage with your website, you’re good.
- Language and Title Tags – Set a language for your website and provide clear titles for each page.
- Skip to Content – Users must be able to skip straight to the heart of your content.
- Consistent Navigation and Flow – Your overall website and each page needs to be predictable and logical. Same format, different content.
- Descriptive Links and Headers – Be obvious in linking to or setting up content so that users know what to expect. In other words, be very obvious in wording your headers, and anchor text surrounding your links.
- Labeled Elements – Put a label on input fields and enough instructions so that users know what they are being asked for.
- Multiple Ways to Access Content – Provide multiple ways to navigate through your website.
- Clear Forms – Make forms simple and easy to fill out.
- Clean Code – Your website must be coded properly and free of errors.
- Color Ratio – All fonts should sharply contrast from its background color at a 4.5:1 minimum threshold.
- Scalable – Text should be able to be resized up to 200 percent without any loss of functionality.
Take Action Now
Updating your website and mobile apps to become ADA compliant is a process. Understanding this issue and taking corrective measures now will help you avoid becoming a target of costly legal action later.
Nathan Muller is the author of 29 technical books and over 3,000 articles that have appeared in 75 publications worldwide. He also writes articles, blogs and social media content for tech companies and their executives.