There’s actually no real definition of “ADA compliance” for websites. The government has been dragging its feet for years on this issue, while demand letters continue to be sent and lawsuits continue to be litigated.
What are businesses with an online presence supposed to do while all this plays out?
Fortunately, we haven’t been left entirely in the lurch. 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
The good news is, you don’t have to spend thousands of dollars on this, and you also don’t have to resign yourself to a bland website with black text on a white background and no images.
We consulted with the Karlin Law Firm in Tustin, CA, and they advised us to take the following steps to make more websites accessible to individuals with disabilities, and to prevent 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.
Note: The free version of UserWay does claim it has limited compliance. See below for more information on compliance.
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
We put alt text on your website’s 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.
AccessiBe – A more robust accessibility solution
UserWay’s free version does admit it has limited capabilities for compliance. They do have a paid version as well, but we did some research and decided to partner with AccessiBe for our clients who want a more robust accessibility solution (and are willing to pay for it).
We won’t get into all of the details here, but AccessiBe definitely offers more accessibility features in its widget than UserWay, and one of the big ticket items is that you’ll have their legal team in your corner should any complaints arise. AccessiBe also automatically adds alt text to images on your website, so you don’t have to do it as new images are added. This is great for clients who are consistently updating their sites with new blog posts, images, etc.
COST: $490/year (that’s about $40/month).
Should you choose to sign up with AccessiBe, please use our affilliate link here: https://accessibe.com/a/a5j6bl7
Then send us the script you receive and we’ll add it to your website!
Recent CA Law Regarding Exclusively Online Businesses
Good news if your business is exclusively online (in other words, no brick and mortar store — e-commerce only) in California:
The California Court of Appeals found that online-only businesses are not “places of public accommodation” covered by Title III of the ADA. (Martinez v. Cot’n Wash, Inc.) This ruling should limit the number of ADA accessibility lawsuits being filed in CA. If the plaintiff in this case appeals, we’ll have to wait and see if the California Supreme Court agrees with the Court of Appeals.
According to the National Law Review:
In California, a plaintiff can recover under the Unruh Act under two theories: (1) a violation of the ADA, or (2) denial of access to a business establishment based on intentional discrimination. The Martinez court denied the plaintiff’s claim under both theories. On the first theory, the court looked to the language of Title III and the U. S. Department of Justice’s 2022 guidance (which is silent on regulations regarding website accessibility), and it concluded that the phrase “place of public accommodation” could not be construed to mean retail websites that do not have any connection to a physical space. On the second theory, the court found that a company’s failure to remedy known discriminatory effects of a facially neutral website is not sufficient, on its own, to establish intentional discrimination under the Unruh Act.
DISCLAIMER: While we cannot guarantee that these measures will shield you entirely from litigation or threats of litigation, we are confident they will bring you very close to ADA compliance. We believe a business that is obviously concerned with ADA compliance and is taking measures to improve its website’s accessibility is less exposed to the attention of a law firm on the hunt for non-compliant websites.