Technology is constantly changing. When the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed in 1990, the world had barely gotten its grips on the World Wide Web, which had only been invented by Tim Berners-Lee a year before.
The civil rights law, on the other hand, arguably took root years previously in Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 which set a precedent for acknowledgement of the rights of persons with disabilities.
Today, internet access is an affirmed human right. In 2016, the United Nations declared that “the same rights that people have offline must also be protected online.” If the ADA is a civil rights law that defends the rights of persons with disabilities to equal opportunities, and internet access is a basic right, doesn’t this mean that the ADA should also protect the right of persons with disabilities to internet access?
Increasingly, courts are beginning to think so. Title III of the ADA covers public accommodations and commercial facilities.
Although websites are located in cyberspace, lawsuits for Title III are continuously growing in number that in 2018, an unprecedented 177% increase in litigation was recorded by law firm Seyfarth Shaw.
Because the ADA was written in 1990, it didn’t particularly identify websites. The growing consensus however is, if you have a website, you must assume that you are covered by Title III of the ADA.
This conclusion only makes sense when you consider that websites are basically audio and visual content. The CDC estimates that there are at least 12 million US adults who currently experience vision problems, while the NIH reports that about 37.5 million have some detectable level of hearing impairment.
Furthermore, the ADA also concerns people who have learning disabilities. Any website that provides goods and services to the public must see to it that they are taking on the responsibility of adhering to the ADA.
But accessibility compliance is not a one-time solution. It is a commitment. How often you check for your compliance can depend on the frequency of updates that your website gets.
More than that, since technology is always progressing, applications are being created all the time to provide fixes to previous problems.
Screen readers, which are very useful tools for those who have visual and learning disabilities, have been around since 1983. But its now more common examples, like Siri for iPhones, were not made more readily available until decades later.
It is also important to note that with the wide usage of smartphones today, people can already access the internet in several ways. Websites may not look and work the same when visited from a personal computer or an Android phone browser.
There are also applications addressing disability problems that are available for laptops but may not be downloaded to some phone operating systems. In a nutshell, something that once worked may not anymore, and some things that didn’t work before may have solutions today.
Owners are also those who know their websites most intimately. Only you can know how often you add content, change pages, and conduct maintenance on your domain. It is probably reasonable to only check for ADA compliance just twice a year, but if you have a significant operation, like Amazon, checks should be done on a daily basis.
Amazon’s website itself was served with a class action lawsuit in 2018 for allegedly being incompatible to some website readers. Even giant corporations with the numerous people in their employ are bound to make mistakes.
Regardless if you are operating a small e-commerce website or a humble blog, you must see to it that you are making reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities who might come across your content. It can be as simple as providing closed captioning to videos or attaching alt text for images.
These changes suit not only the needs of people with disabilities but the needs of other customers in some cases that you might not predict. For instance, some people do choose not to view images to speed the loading of websites on mobile phones on poor internet connections.
Without alt text, they will completely miss your image content. Viewers, who may have perfect hearing capabilities, may choose not to turn on audio while playing videos for personal reasons. Without subtitles, they might not become aware of dialogue and other sounds performed on the screen.
The good news is checking for ADA compliance is a problem that you can easily solve today. There are a few things that you need to check to ensure ADA compliance, more precisely: A Comprehensive ADA Compliance Checklist for a More Inclusive Website. This is a great article published by Accessibility Spark that will present you with the complete list of items required to make website ADA compliance. You can visit this page if you want to find blind spots on your website you may have overlooked: https://adacompliancepros.com/ada-website-compliance-checker/
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