What Businesses Should Know about ADA Compliant Websites

McMahonADAComplaintkeyboardIn January 2019, Beyoncé Knowles’ company became the defendant in a class-action lawsuit alleging that it violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The suit, filed by a blind woman from New York, claimed that the company’s website, Beyonce.com, did not provide accommodation for people with significant vision impairments and the plaintiff is unable to browse the site or make online purchases without the assistance of a sighted companion.

The number of website accessibility lawsuits (where a plaintiff can not use websites because they were not coded to work with technologies like screen readers, or otherwise accessible to them) filed in federal court under Title III of the ADA exploded in 2018 to at least 2258 – increasing by 177% from 814 such lawsuits in 2017 according to Seyfarth.com.

The ADA, signed into law in 1990, was primarily directed at businesses in buildings that lacked adequate provisions for people with physical handicaps who might be unable to access steps or navigate narrow corridors and doorways. But it’s spurring a new wave of digital-era lawsuits. The civil rights law applies to businesses with 15 or more employees, including state and local governments, and also applies to places of public accommodation. The digital assets, primarily websites that are meant to serve the public, don’t always offer accessibility features for people with disabilities.

Protecting your business

Many web users rely on devices and software like voice and text readers to access website content and services. To make your online services and digital products available to a broader audience, your website and content should be designed and organized to make it accessible and easy to understand for both humans and the technology they rely on.

What’s the best way to build an ADA-compliant website? There are a few things you can do to set you on the right path toward ADA compliance, or at least demonstrate that your business has made a good-faith effort toward accommodation. Websites need text and audio options, such as screen readers. Images should be coupled with text descriptions of their contents that can be read by the user or a screen reader. Contrast should be sharp so content can be read easily and flashing features, which can trigger seizures, should be avoided. Users should be able to navigate the website with peripheral tools such as a keyboard or webcam.

Here are some common ways businesses address accessibility issues associated with their web content:

  • 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 helps users who utilize text readers. Text readers can identify those codes and 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.

For now, businesses are largely on their own in figuring out how best to proceed and where to invest. It’s usually a good idea to err on the side of inclusiveness by making your digital properties more accessible. Plus, you may protect your website from litigation and make it easier for the roughly one in four U.S. adults who live with a disability to do business with you.

For questions about this or about your business insurance please give us a call 609-399-0060.