What Is the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)?
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) became law in 1990. The ADA is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life, including jobs, schools, transportation, and all public and private places that are open to the general public. The purpose of the law is to make sure that people with disabilities have the same rights and opportunities as everyone else. The ADA gives civil rights protections to individuals with disabilities similar to those provided to individuals on the basis of race, color, sex, national origin, age, and religion.
It guarantees equal opportunity for individuals with disabilities in public accommodations, employment, transportation, state and local government services, and telecommunications. The ADA is divided into five titles (or sections) that relate to different areas of public life.
In 2008, the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA) was signed into law and became effective on January 1, 2009. The ADAAA made a number of significant changes to the definition of “disability.” The changes in the definition of disability in the ADAAA apply to all titles of the ADA, including Title I (employment practices of private employers with 15 or more employees, state and local governments, employment agencies, labor unions, agents of the employer and joint management labor committees); Title II (programs and activities of state and local government entities); and Title III (private entities that are considered places of public accommodation).
What is ADA Compliance?
ADA website compliance applies to the Americans with Disabilities Act norms for Accessible Design. It requires that all electronic information and technology —i.e, your website must be popular to those with disabilities.
ADA is often confused with Section 508. However, ADA differs in that it’s a civil law that mandates the inclusion of all people, especially those with disabilities, in all areas of public life. That includes the workplace, schools, transportation, and any other places open to the general public. So while ADA requires websites and content to be accessible, it has broader guidelines that cover all disabilities and environments.
What is WCAG Compliance?
These regulations also work alongside the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). The WCAG is an international set of standards used to improve digital accessibility. So while ADA may require accessibility, the WCAG guidelines provide guidance on how to make websites accessible. Companies can avoid litigation by auditing their website and software based on WCAG compliance. The primary focus of WCAG is HTML accessibility throughout all platforms.
Does My Website Need to Be ADA Compliant?
If all public spheres must adhere to ADA compliance standards, does that mean you do too?
Because ADA applies to all electronic information and technology, i.e., the world wide web and all its websites, ADA compliance applies to virtually all businesses and web developers.
To be more specific, ADA compliance applies to the following:
State and local government organizations
Private organizations with 15 employees or more
Places of business that are considered a place of public accommodation
Organizations that work for the public’s benefit
e.g., public transportation, schools, restaurants, bakeries, grocery stores, hotels, banks, accountant offices, law offices, social service centers, gyms, healthcare providers, the United States Postal Service, etc.
Ultimately, all websites should be ADA compliant and inclusive to everyone, even if the ADA standards don’t apply to you and your organization.
What If My Website Isn't ADA Compliant?
In most cases, when ADA compliance standards are left unmet, it’s not intentional. However, that doesn’t matter because if your website isn’t ADA compliant you’re at risk for a hefty lawsuit. Even if you unintentionally skipped the guidelines provided by the U.S. Department of Justice, you could still end up paying thousands of dollars in lawsuits if you’re website isn’t accessible to everyone.
In addition to a lawsuit, you’ll also be facing the following for being non-compliant with ADA compliance standards:
Potential public relations problems
The costs involved in rebuilding your website to be compliant
On top of all of this, you run the risk of losing customers for not making your website accessible to those that are disabled. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the number of people with disabilities increases by the millions every few years. As of 2010, there were over 56 million people with disabilities—that’s A LOT of people potentially being turned away due to a lack of accessibility.
How Can I Achieve ADA Compliance for My Website?
When it comes to making your website ADA compliant, the go-to recommendation revolves around the WCAG 2.0 guidelines. This resource outlines several recommendations or goals for making your website ADA accessible to users across the U.S.
The core principles that guide WCAG include:
Perceivable: You want users to have the ability to perceive all the information that appears on your site, like text, images, video, and more. Even if a user can’t see your website’s text or listen to your website’s video, you need to provide an alternative.
Operable: You want users to have the capability to navigate your site and use all its features.Any user, for example, should have the means to use your main navigation, as well as any site tools, like calculators.
Understandable: You want users to have the means to understand your website content. That means users can understand your site’s text, images, videos, and tools. For example, your site may include instructions for using a feature, like a calculator or a contact form.
Robust: You want users to have the ability to receive the same experience, even if using assistive technologies.
The WCAG compiled all its principles into an easy-to-follow checklist. This checklist consists of three levels:
Level A: Build a website that some users can access.
Level AA: Build a website that almost all users can access.
Level AAA: Build a website that all users can access.
For ADA compliance, most organizations recommend meeting Level AA requirements.