Which businesses are required to comply with the ADA? The first thing to understand about the ADA is which businesses are required to comply. Under Title I of the ADA, any business with at least 15 full-time employees that operates for 20 or more weeks every year is covered by the law. Under Title III, businesses that fall into the category of “public accommodations,” such as hotels, banks and public transportation, are also required to comply. That means the entirety of the law applies, from physical considerations to digital accommodations. If your business falls under either Title I or Title III of the ADA and you do not believe you are compliant, consult with a disability lawyer and explore your options. [Interested in e-commerce website software? Check out our top picks.] There are no clear website accessibility guidelines When it comes to business websites, there are no clear rules. That doesn’t let businesses off the hook, though; they still must provide an accessible website that takes into account users with disabilities. “As far as websites go, there is no federally codified direction on how to make websites comply,” said David Engelhardt, a New York City-based small business attorney. “We only know that the ADA does apply to websites based on cases such as [Gil v. Winn-Dixie].” What’s the best way to build an ADA-compliant website if there isn’t a clear definition of what that means? There are a few actions you can take to set you on the right path toward ADA compliance, or at least help you demonstrate that your business has made a good-faith effort toward accommodation, should you ever wind up in court. Where to start Accessibility of a website means ensuring that individuals who are blind, deaf or who must navigate by voice are still able to meaningfully engage with the content on your website. This can be done in many ways, including some that are not immediately obvious. All in all, totally revamping a website to be ADA compliant could come with a hefty price tag, possibly up to $37,000, but it insulates your business from being targeted by lawsuits. “A business’s IT department must design its corporate website so that those who are disabled can access it easily,” said Steven Mitchell Sack, an employment law attorney based in Long Island and New York City. “For example, if someone is sight impaired, the web designer can install certain technologies such as screen readers in which a voice reads the text on the screen back to the web visitor. Refreshable Braille text for touchscreens can also be used.” In lieu of any regulatory guidance, business owners should consider looking to the regulations that govern federal agencies’ websites and related case law to gain an understanding of what compliance might be. There are risks related to the uncertainty of building out an accessible website ahead of regulatory guidance, but it could protect businesses once regulations are established. “There is no regulatory guidance on this issue – yet – for commercial entities,” said Nancy Del Pizzo, a partner at the law firm Rivkin Radler. “Thus, there are no regulations or statutes that define ‘ADA compliance’ as to websites. There are, however, requirements for federal websites as well as some detailed legal decisions that can be used as guidance, including opinions that have held that ‘reasonable’ accessibility is key.” Here are just some common ways businesses address accessibility issues on their websites:
- Create alt tags for all images, videos and audio files: Alt tags allow users with disabilities to read or hear alternative descriptions of content they might not otherwise be able to view. Alt tags describe the object itself and, generally, the purpose it serves on the site.
- Create text transcripts for video and audio content: Text transcripts help hearing impaired users understand content that would otherwise be inaccessible to them.
- Identify the site’s language in header code: Making it clear what language the site should be read in can help users that utilize text readers. Text readers can identify those codes and are able to function accordingly.
- Offer alternatives and suggestions when users encounter input errors: If a user with a disability is encountering input errors because of their need to navigate the website differently, your site should automatically offer recommendations to them as to how to better navigate toward the content they need.
- Create a consistent, organized layout: Menus, links and buttons should be organized in such a way that they are clearly delineated from one another and are easily navigated throughout the entire site.