What Is ADA Compliance in Regards to Digital Services?
An ADA compliant website or digital service is designed to be accessible to people with disabilities. These disabilities include those with visual, auditory, physical, speech, cognitive, and neurological disabilities.
To be ADA compliant, a website must be designed and coded in a way that allows people with disabilities to access the content on the site without difficulty. Compliance applies to all digital services including both desktop applications, mobile applications, and video.
Digital media must also provide features such as alternative text for images and captions for audio and visual content, keyboard navigation, and support for assistive technologies such as screen readers. The software development team needs to keep the UX/UI design in mind when developing the website or app so it includes these options.
The following questions are answered in this article:
- When did ADA compliance become law?
- What are the top 10 qualities a website or other digital service must have to be ADA compliant?
- Are ADA digital compliance laws being enforced?
- What websites and apps are mandated to be in compliance with Section 501?
- What can happen if a website or app is not ADA compliant?
When did ADA compliance become law?
In 1998, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was amended to include Section 501, a provision for website accessibility. Section 501 made it illegal for any publicly accessible website or digital service to discriminate against people with disabilities.
It also required that websites and other digital services including apps provide an accessible experience for disabled users so it needs to follow accessibility guidelines. This legislation was among the first of its kind. It set the foundation for other countries and the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) to create their own website accessibility standards.
There are no websites or digital services that are considered exceptions to the ADA compliance laws. Compliance applies to all websites and digital services regardless of size, industry, or purpose.
What are the top 10 qualities a website or other digital service must have to be ADA compliant?
Keep in mind that the specifics that need to be done for each piece of digital service or digital medial is going to be a bit different. Despite differences, the end goal is the same: to make digital services and media accessible to everyone regardless of handicap or disability. Qualities that all should have, however, include the following:
- The digital media must be easy to navigate with clear and consistent navigation options. This includes a clear page structure and easy to understand headings and labels. The user must also be able to skip repetitive navigation elements.
- All images, graphics, and videos should have alt text that accurately describes the content. This allows people who are visually impaired to understand the content of the page.
- A page should have structured markup to communicate the structure and hierarchy of the page. This can include proper use of heading and subheading tags.
- The fonts used in a website should be easy to read. A minimum font size of 12 points is recommended, though that can differ from one digital service to the next.
- A website or app should be able to be navigated in its entirety through the use of the keyboard. This also applies to a mouse or other pointing device. This includes the ability to navigate a website through tabs and keyboard shortcuts. Assistive technologies that currently exist, such as screen readers, must be also be supported.
- The content on a website or app should have a high contrast ratio between the background and any text. This makes it easier for someone with low vision or color blindness to read.
- Fields on forms should be labeled accurately and the labels should be associated with the fields. This allows devices such as screen readers to understand what information is being requested of the user.
- Time-based events on websites and other forms of digital media should have alternate ways of accessing the content. If this cannot be accomplished, there needs to be a way for the user to turn off the event.
- Audio and video content should have closed captions and/or transcripts as well as an audio description of the content. This will allow hearing or visually impaired individuals to access the digital content.
- When error messages pop up, they should be clear and descriptive and should not be hidden. This way, users can understand why a website or app error occurs and how they can fix it.
Are ADA digital compliance laws being enforced?
The Department of Justice (DOJ) is the entity responsible for enforcing ADA. Right now, there are not any specific deadlines when compliance will be strictly enforced across the board.
Despite that, the DOJ has begun to take action against websites and other digital media that are not in compliance. Right now, this primarily happens when particular websites and apps are brought to their attention as being discriminatory. The number of lawsuits being filed over website accessibility for individuals with disabilities is increasing all of the time. Over 2,500 lawsuits were filed in 2020 alone.
In some cases, state and local governments are also beginning to enforce the law on a case by case basis.
What websites and apps are mandated to be in compliance with Section 501?
Under Title 1 of the ADA, any business, organization, or institution with at least 15 full-time employees that operates for 20 or more weeks per year is required to comply with Section 501.
The Justice Department has not begun cracking down on Section 501 violators as of yet, however. So far, the Justice Department has been handling non-compliance issues of individual businesses and organizations as specific non-compliance issues are brought to their attention by users. Users can file complaints on the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights website if they feel as though their rights were violated.
This is not true in every circumstance, however. The U.S. Department of Justice’s 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design became enforceable on March 15, 2012. Therefore, so all federal government digital media should now be in compliance with Section 501.
In addition, any business vying for a federal contract or who receives Federal funds for any reason should now be in compliance with this provision. Funds could be pulled and contracts could be rejected, in addition to receiving fines for the violation, if a business’s website or app is not ADA compliant.
What can happen if a website or app is not ADA compliant?
Even though it is not yet enforced across the board, if a website or app is not ADA compliant, it can lead to the website being deemed discriminatory. This can lead to a variety of legal, financial, and reputational consequences including costly fees, settlements, judgments, costly legal fees, and being pulled from the mobile app stores. A first violation can cost up to $75,000 and subsequent violations can be $150,000 for each occurrence. In addition, if a website is not ADA compliant, the ADA may require that the business meet a higher standard of accessibility than what is currently required as part of their penalty.
In addition, businesses could lose customers and revenue if those with disabilities cannot access the digital service. Without access, disabled individuals may be unable to purchase goods or services from the website or app, which could lead to a decrease in sales.
Reputational consequences may also arise from not being ADA compliant. Businesses may be seen as not respecting the rights of those with disabilities or for not being socially responsible. This could potentially lead to a decrease in customer loyalty and public trust in the company which, in turn, could cause a decrease in revenue.
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