Do All Websites Have to be ADA Compliant?



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Author: Rennica Johnson Category: Web Design Date: December 2, 2021

A person searching compliance on a laptop on a tableA person searching compliance on a laptop on a table

Websites, and accessing them, are a huge part of our everyday life. We can do, find, or buy almost anything on a website. Having a website perform for all your audiences is critical. But, for a portion of consumers, websites are not always accessible, especially for the estimated 1 in 5 Americans who live with disabilities. To support the needs of people with disabilities in the U.S., the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law. Trying to understand how the ADA applies to websites can be challenging, so we are offering some guidance on whether all websites do have to be ADA compliant.

Under Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, all federal, state, and local government websites are required to meet accessibility standards as of the Act’s update in 2001. Technically, the section that addresses public businesses does not specifically tackle websites.

Does My Website Have to be ADA Compliant?

So, is ADA compliance mandatory for websites? The answer really isn’t that simple. The ADA prohibits discrimination based on disability, and to be compliant, it must be able to be used by those who use assistive devices. If your website is not accessible to people with disabilities, it could be seen as discrimination, and therefore not compliant with the law.

Legal precedence has left it up to individual courts to decide on a case-by-case basis if the ADA should apply to each company’s website. Ultimately leaving the answer to the question, “does my website have to be ADA compliant?” still somewhat murky.

Do bank websites have to be ADA compliant?

Do law firm websites have to be ADA compliant?

Do real estate websites have to be ADA compliant?

What websites must be ADA compliant?

Court rulings have generally reached a few conclusions. First, they have ruled all websites do have to be ADA compliant if the website is considered a public accommodation. Courts have often ruled that websites are places of public accommodation but have noted that accessibility is mandatory for websites that impact interstate commerce and fall under categories like lodging, food, eating, entertainment, recreation, education, public transportation, cleaning and personal hygiene, and healthcare and professional services establishments. Secondly, some courts have ruled that your website does have to be ADA compliant if the business has a physical location that serves the public in addition to its website. Yet some courts have ruled that the ADA does not specifically address websites and does not apply.

The ADA exempts private clubs and religious organizations from the regulation. It also offers exemptions for small businesses that employ less than 15 people, but it is not clear whether websites are included. The ADA requires that any business, regardless of size, make all “reasonable efforts” to accommodate customers with disabilities, but doesn’t offer clarity on what that means.

Why Is it Unclear if My Website Does Have to be ADA Compliant?

In 1990 when the ADA was first written, websites were not commonplace. Though it has been updated several times, it still has not offered complete clarity. Courts have provided more guidance than the legislation, but the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has left the job of mandatory guidelines up to Congress.

What Happens if My Website Is Not ADA Compliant?

Since it has not weighed in on mandatory guidelines, the DOJ does not make businesses pay fines, but that does not negate financial liability in a civil court if your website is not ADA compliant. With the almost limitless potential of cyberspace, it is difficult to know how many websites are ADA compliant or not, or predict if an outside party will bring suit against you. The more visible your website is, the more likely it is to draw attention and demand that your website does have to be ADA compliant.

What Do I Do if My Website Does Have to Be ADA Compliant?

While there is no guidance on what is required to make a website ADA compliant, the DOJ has said that the best way to avoid ADA non-compliance is to follow Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) standards, which cover a wide range of recommendations for making web content more accessible. Many platforms have existing functionality you can utilize. Some other things to consider:

  • Orientation and responsiveness to ensure your website can be used on tablets and mobile devices, in order to make it easier for someone with a disability to navigate.
  • Navigation that includes the use of tabs to make it as easy as possible for those with disabilities to maneuver your site.
  • Labels and tags should be included for all buttons, icons, images, and other visual elements on your site to help identify them to the visually impaired or those who use voice commands to navigate.
  • Sizing and spacing with added padding and margins make it easier for those with reduced fine motor skills to click on icons.
  • Color contrast to allow those with color blindness to better see your content.

Does your website have to be ADA compliant? As you can tell, there are not a lot of definitive answers. In marketing, the more consumers that can access your content the better. If you are overwhelmed by the question, “Does my website have to be ADA compliant?” please contact us today. Paradigm’s team is skilled at ADA website design and can help.

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