Website Compliance Under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA)

Recently, there have been a plethora of “professional plaintiffs” filing lawsuits against clients under the ADA based upon “website compliance;” this is a follow-up by the same professional plaintiffs who filed dozens of ADA lawsuits last winter against some of our clients. The purpose of this article is to advise you to ensure that you ask your web designer if your website is compliant with the ADA. Note: This article does not reflect compliance standards under local laws. For example, while there is a “small employer exception” under the ADA, no such exception exists in many states under local human rights laws (the local law as compared to the ADA). In any event, all employers, large and small, should ask the relevant questions to avoid legal issues.

Government entities and public accommodations are bound to the mandates set forth by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), ensuring access for individuals with disabilities. The most publicly well-known target of the ADA’s mandates includes physical spaces of operation, such as offices, parking lots, areas of entry, etc. The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), however, has clarified that the internet must also comply with the ADA, and entities identified by the ADA must ensure their websites can be accessed by users with disabilities.

Methods of compliance with the ADA’s requirements of nondiscrimination on websites are flexible, and the DOJ does not have any regulation setting out detailed standards. There are, however, some existing technical standards that provide guidance to ensure website accessibility, such as the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) and the Section 508 Standards of the Rehabilitation Act, both of which are used by the federal government for its own websites.

The foregoing resources provide substantial guidance for web designers as they ensure ADA compliance. Considerations for accessibility include but are not limited to the following common practices:

  • Color Contrast in Text. The color contrast between various objects displayed on web pages is necessary for individuals with limited vision or color blindness to read text or identify objects.
  • Text Cues When Using Strategic Color. Websites sometimes utilize color as a means of conveying information to viewers. For example, an online form may utilize the color red to indicate required form fields for users. For access purposes, designers should include text cues any time color is used to display meaning to aid individuals who cannot perceive the color.
  • Alternative Text and Images. When pages utilize images and photographs in their design, ADA compliance requires text alternatives to describe said images and photographs to allow visually impaired users to utilize screen readers when viewing the website.
  • Video Captions. For users who may be deaf or hearing impaired, videos must be made accessible by including synchronized captions displaying the contents of said videos.
  • Online Forms. Labels, keyboard access, and clear instructions are necessary for the accessibility of online forms; these features allow for the function of screen readers for the visually impaired. Error identification in form fields is also a necessity for compliance, and screen readers must be able to identify text explaining the error for the user to be able to correct.
  • Text Size and Zoom Capability. Individuals with vision disabilities must be able to adjust text size and zoom within the page to allow for clear sight of the contents of the web page.
  • Headings. Building headings into the website’s design layout allows visually impaired users to navigate and understand the layout of the page using screen readers more easily.
  • Checking for Accessibility. Automated accessibility check software now exists, and website holders should utilize such resources when ensuring their compliance. Manual checks of the website’s compliance should also be undertaken in determining accessibility.

While these features are the most common methods of ensuring compliance with the ADA for websites, this list is not exhaustive. Depending on the type and nature of the website, other factors may impact the site’s design and construction in ensuring access for individuals with disabilities; detailed guidelines used by various sects of the federal, state, and local governments can aid web designers during the process of developing websites.