Sam Oldenburg

@samoldenburg

ADA Compliance and Your Website — Should You Actually Be Worried?

June 27th 2017
Nobody wants to end up here, aside from the lawyers maybe…

Update 12/31/2018 — Note that this article was written in July 2017, which means by web standards it is already outdated. I will attempt to make some time to update this article soon, but until then, I’d advise you to cross-check the statements made here with other sources.

Winn-Dixie recently faced, and lost an ADA compliance lawsuit, and it made for some pretty sensational headlines. Website accessibility is a hot topic right now, so every case that goes wrong for someone is bound to result in some pretty fanatical headlines. But should you actually be worried? In short — maybe.

So let’s try and make ADA compliance, who needs to be worried, and what you can do about it as simple to understand as possible. Full disclosure — I am not your lawyer, and nothing in here is legal advice.

What Does ADA Compliance Mean?

ADA is short for the Americans with Disabilities Act, which became law in 1990. It prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life. The ADA, at least for Title III (private sector businesses), only applies to companies that employ 15 or more persons.

In January 2018, some new federal regulations will take effect. All federal institutions’ websites must meet AA compliance on all items in WCAG 2.0 by this time. We’ll get into what that means a little later.

Why Is ADA Compliance Suddenly a Bigger Deal?

Legal precedent is changing, and ADA compliance related lawsuits are becoming more successful, and the courts are seeing more of them as a result. Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act pertains to private sector businesses. Lately, those protections are more frequently expanding into digital territory as web and mobile applications become more necessary in our day-to-day lives.

Who Needs To Be Compliant?

The general consensus right now is that any business considered a “public accommodation” should have an ADA compliant web presence.

“Public accommodation” could apply to most things depending on who is making the interpretation. Generally, however, this would refer to B2C, retail, or any business the general public should be able to use, understand and access easily.

The judgment against Winn-Dixie was determined after the courts felt that the website was too heavily integrated with the physical store presence. This could have been prompted by things like placing their weekly ad on the website.

What Do I Need To Do To Be Compliant?

Why that’s simple, just follow all 61 guidelines laid out in WCAG 2.0 to either AA or AAA level!

Sound scary? It’s not as bad as it seems. Your site probably already meets many of these rules and others will only take a web developer a few minutes to bring up to par. However, there are some items that are much more difficult to fix depending on the situation.

  • Text must meet a minimum contrast ratio against the background, which can significantly impact your design.
  • Your site must be fully navigable via keyboard only. This usually includes things like skip navigation buttons and can involve manually setting a tabindex everywhere.
  • Your site should be navigable with screen reader software. This can be difficult to test and can involve some arduous fixes similar to what is necessary for keyboard navigation.
  • Your site must handle text scaling up to 200% without causing horizontal scrolling or content-breaking layout issues. Once again, this may be more difficult to fix in some complex designs.

How Do I Check All Of This?

A variety of software can be used to test for ADA compliance.

  • WAVE is a good start, but can produce a lot of false positives, particularly for contrast ratio issues.
  • Lighthouse can help generate a report on potential issues.
  • Manual testing for contrast ratio using this calculator.
  • Manual testing with screen reader software
  • Manual testing with keyboard only navigation

The automated tools will catch a lot of the simple issues, but manual testing is often still going to be required for nearly all websites if you want to ensure you are meeting requirements.

Hopefully this sheds a little light into the situation and what it means for your business. Or, if you’re a web developer, how to be proactive to help your clients.

Let’s make the world a better place, one compliant website at a time.

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