First, you should know Domino’s Pizza and Beyoncé are currently facing lawsuits about their websites’ lack of accessibility. We’ll get into that more a little later, but just know that this is no longer an issue you can push off, or a “nice-to-have” feature. There are consequences, and they are now.
Now, let’s back it up for an introduction to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). In 1990, then-president George H.W. Bush signed the act — which was modeled after the Civil Rights Act of 1964 — and remarked:
“With today’s signing of the landmark Americans for Disabilities Act, every man, woman, and child with a disability can now pass through once-closed doors into a bright new era of equality, independence, and freedom.”
At that time, he was referring to the physical obstacles that stood in the way of Americans with disabilities in both public and private spaces. Ramps, larger doorways, bathroom stalls, lower drinking fountains and more were all introduced. Businesses also had to ensure they could communicate with those who have vision, speech, and hearing disabilities.
We first met the ADA in person in 1991, when the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division first published the Title II (state and local governments) and Title III (public accommodations and commercial facilities) regulations, as well as ADA Accessibility guidelines.
Come 2003, and the department issued a document that did address website accessibility, though it was directed at state and local government websites only.
In 2010, the department revised standards for both Title II and III and included minimum requirements for newly designed and constructed spaces. By 2012, ADA-compliance became an all-out requirement (with the exception of existing swimming pools, which only got an extension until 2013).
Time has marched on and along with it, further clarifications to the ADA, including an updated meaning and interpretation of the word disability and a rule that all movie theaters must provide closed captions and audio descriptions when a movie has these features.
You’ll notice that through all that history, we haven’t mentioned non-government websites. The ADA has largely related only to the physical world and the DOJ hasn’t issued any formal guidance on how it applies to websites. However, in 2017, a Florida federal judge ruled that the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) are an “industry standard” and that a website (Winn Dixie’s) did in fact violate the ADA because it was not accessible to those with impaired vision.
In 2018, more than 2,200 lawsuits were filed in federal courts over inaccessible websites. And now in 2019, the Supreme Court is being asked into the arena.
As mentioned above, Domino’s is facing a lawsuit that Guillermo Robles, a blind California man who was unable to use the company’s website with his screen reader to order a pizza, filed in 2016. Robles’ complaint was that that as long as a business has a physical location and is advertising via the internet, the ADA should apply to that business’ website. As of a decision filed in January 2019, a federal appeals court agrees.
Domino’s is petitioning the Supreme Court to weigh in, ultimately asking the justices to decide if websites and mobile apps are considered a “place of public accommodation,” and are thereby covered by Title III of the ADA.
Depending on if the Supreme Court decides to hear the case when it returns in the fall, this could have huge implications for millions of people, and millions of companies, including Beyoncé’s Parkwood Entertainment, which is facing a class-action suit over website accessibility.
The Domino’s argument is that the cost of creating accessible websites and apps could push into the millions, and that with no regulations in place currently, the results would largely be inconsistent.
But perhaps their cost consideration should pertain to lost business from those who aren’t able to purchase via the internet, along with anyone who will take a monetary stand against a company showing a lack of commitment to equality.
Or as Christopher Danielsen, a representative for the National Federation of the Blind, told CNBC, “Rather than refusing to take the money of those of us with disabilities, why not innovate and take our money?”
We firmly believe that you don’t have to wait until the law tells you that you have to do something before you do what’s right. Retrofitting non-compliant websites and learning how to develop fully compliant new ones might be hard. It might be murky. But living in the 21st century while being excluded from technology is undoubtedly harder and murkier.
And we’re more than ready to accept the challenge.
Interested in what you can do to ensure ADA-compliance (and increased SEO) for your own website? Here are a few tips:
- Increase the color contrast between foreground and background elements
- Don’t rely on color as the sole means of communication
- Provide alternative text for images so that screen readers may announce content in a manner that makes sense
- Avoid any user interaction that requires dexterity, including ensuring that interactive elements are large enough for those with motor disabilities
- Avoid requiring any user interaction that provides too little time for the user to take action
- Avoid distracting or flashing animations or effects that may impact individuals with cognitive difficulties or epilepsy
- Provide an alternative means to navigate a website that does not require the use of a mouse or other pointing device
Want a more comprehensive approach to an ADA-compliant website, or even just understanding what that means for your company? We’re here to lend our expertise.