There’s actually no real definition of “ADA compliance” for websites. The federal government has been dragging its feet for years on this issue, while demand letters continue to be sent and lawsuits continue to be settled (and sometimes litigated).
So what are businesses supposed to do to protect themselves while all this plays out?
In the absence of any official guidelines, here’s what we have to go on:
- the WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) which the Department of Justice has instructed various agencies (including UC Berkeley) to use as a guide to measure the usability and accessibility of their websites; and
- case law, which continues to change (and sometimes, be very inconsistent).
So when we refer to “ADA compliance” here, we’re referring to the measures we know of that can be taken, that have been shown to improve a disabled individual’s ability to navigate websites*.
What to Do
We have consulted with the Karlin Law Firm in Tustin, CA, and they advised us to take the following steps to make our clients’ websites more accessible to individuals with disabilities, and to try and prevent demand letters and lawsuits*:
We’ll install a free version of the UserWay accessibility plugin onto your website. To see the UserWay plugin in action, click the icon in the lower right corner of our website.
We’ll put an Accessibility Statement, written by the Karlin Law Firm, in your website footer. The Accessibility Statement is a public acknowledgement of your compliance with anti-discrimination laws and demonstrates your willingness to accept feedback if someone is having difficulty using your site.
Alt Text on Images
Alt text is “behind the scenes” descriptions of images that are indexed by Google and read aloud by screen readers, allowing someone with visual impairments to know what images are on the website. Our understanding is that missing alt text is the subject of the majority of ADA website lawsuits.
*DISCLAIMER: We cannot guarantee that these measures will shield you entirely from litigation or threats of litigation. Our hope is that businesses that are obviously concerned with ADA compliance and are taking measures to improve their websites’ accessibility will be less exposed to the attention of plaintiffs on the hunt for “non-compliant” websites.
Recent Update – AB 1757
If passed, California Assembly Bill 1757, which is set to resume discussion in the legislature sometime in 2024, would make the WCAG 2.1 level AA the “standard” for websites and mobile apps accessed in California (which could conceivably be from anywhere).
Here are just some of the problems with this:
- There’s currently no way to objectively test for conformity with the WCAG. They are by definition guidelines, which leave open the possibility for speculation and subjectivity. Not to mention, the currently available testing programs are often inaccurate. Lawsuits are going to be filed in record numbers and litigation will likely take years to hash all this out.
- Web developers can be held liable for “non-compliance”, which again, could result in years of costly litigation and will ultimately drive up the cost of websites and mobile apps.
- Small businesses will be overly burdened by the costs associated with attempting to be “ADA compliant” as well as the legal costs of defending themselves. (Under AB 1757, only plaintiffs will be entitled to attorney’s fees if successful. Businesses, even if they win, won’t be entitled to attorney’s fees, which basically means there’s no real deterrent to plaintiffs filing meritless lawsuits.)
- Many businesses will either leave California, go offline entirely, or go out of business, and costs of goods and services will likely increase, which then detrimentally impacts consumers.