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This post is contributed by the fabulous Jen Martinez, who has been working with us at Anneal. 

We’ve noticed an uptick in lawsuits against organizations and brick-and-mortar businesses for failing ADA compliance with their websites, most notably with Netflix, Harvard, and MIT. But what is ADA compliance? Does it apply to your organization or business? Why does this matter? Let’s dive in.

What is ADA Compliance?

The Americans with Disabilities Act was initially passed in 1990. First and foremost, it was a civil rights act meant to protect people with disabilities in physical environments. It was applied to brick-and-mortar businesses to ensure accessibility for all, like a person in a wheelchair or someone without sight. That was 26 years ago, and how we interact with businesses and organizations has changed significantly since then.

The ADA has gone through several amendments since 1990; most recently, the law has expanded to include websites, which is a physical manifestation of a business online. This means that businesses and organizations that sell goods or services to customers and represent themselves online with a website – which can sell that good or service, or provide information about the brick-and-mortar location – must comply to ADA’s standards, such as color blindness and hearing impairment.

Web Accessibility Standards

Just as the ADA brought about standardization for brick-and-mortar business accessibility, so did the wave of the Internet brought standardization for web accessibility. These standards have been tricky figuring out in the age of the Internet. Some businesses and organizations with physical locations have been getting dinged for their websites’ lack of ADA compliance – as seen in the suits against Harvard, MIT, and numerous retail companies.

In other cases, such as that of Netflix, which does not have a physical location for the selling of their goods/services, those standards have some blurred lines. Netflix lacked audio descriptions in some videos posted on their website, which is accessible to anyone who pay a subscription. This meant that a person with hearing impairment was unable to access the same service provided to someone who was not hearing impaired. That inequality brought them to court.

What this means for your business

As anyone running a business knows, lawsuits are not to be taken lightly. Most businesses being affected by these suits are retailers, restaurants, and hotels, but as we saw in Netflix’s case, any business or organization that sells a good or service is vulnerable to a lawsuit for failing ADA compliance. To help avoid getting sued, you should take certain steps to validate your business’ online ADA compliance. In 2015, the Department of Justice (DOJ) clarified what being ADA-compliant means online: any business or organization with public accommodations must adhere to a minimum of the AA standards of WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines). This might mean changing the color palette of your website, putting subtitles and audio descriptions on videos, making all text resizable, or more substantial structural adjustments.

Want to know if your business’ website is ADA-compliant? Let’s talk.

Next time: we’ll discuss the history of the ADA, what the WCAG details, and the DOJ’s role in all of this.