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Inside ADA Laws and Website Compliance

B2B and B2C demand for 24/7 access to services and information online have sped up the need for the insurance industry to create more robust digital platforms. We’re seeing this every day with the ability for customers to request policy changes, initiate Certificates of Insurance, get a quote, make payments, and perform other insurance transactions online and on-demand. Other industries have also shifted to greater utilization of online platforms for their services, particularly in the wake of COVID. Often overlooked, however, is the need to also ensure that a website is ADA compliant.

What Does the Americans with Disabilities Act Say About Websites?

In 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was enacted to ensure businesses provide accommodations to those who are disabled. Over the last 15 years, this has extended to include websites or apps that offer goods or services to the public. Web content should be accessible to blind users, deaf users, and those who must navigate by voice, screen readers or other assistive technologies. Businesses that fall under Title I – those that operate 20 or more weeks per year with at least 15 full-time employees; or Title III – those that fall under the category of “public accommodation” (restaurants, hotels, theaters, doctors’ offices, pharmacies, retail stores, museums, libraries, parks, private schools, and daycare centers), are covered by the ADA. Failure to create an ADA-compliant website could open a business to lawsuits, financial liabilities, and reputational damage.

ADA lawsuits for website violations in fact have been on the rise over the last several years. It’s almost become a cottage industry among aggressive plaintiff law firms that search out non-ADA compliant websites. These types of lawsuits allege that: (1) private company websites qualify as places of public accommodation; and (2) websites with access barriers (e.g., websites without compatible screen-reading software) deny plaintiffs the right of equal access. Plaintiffs have also challenged the accessibility of mobile applications and online job application interfaces. A single plaintiff’s attorney and sometimes the same disabled individual will file dozens or more lawsuits against many different companies alleging technical violations of Title III, and seek injunctive relief (that is, for the company to make its website ADA accessible) and attorneys’ fees that are authorized by the statute. 

Making Your Website ADA Compliant

Although there aren’t any clear rules regarding ADA website compliance, businesses still must provide an accessible site that accommodates users with disabilities. Many firms follow the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) as a reference for digital accessibility. These guidelines were developed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), an international group that helps create and promote web standards.

Here are some of the basic guidelines under WCAG 2.1 to ensure your web content is:

  • Perceivable: Content is presented in an easily perceivable manner. Examples include offering alternatives to text, such as audio alternatives or assistive technology, that allow sight-impaired individuals to perceive your website’s content including photos.
  • Operable: Navigation is easy to operate. Examples include offering keyboard accessibilities so users with disabilities can easily navigate your website and access content.
  • Understandable: Content is easy to understand. Recommendations include making the text readable — which includes using a mechanism to help identify definitions of words or phrases used in unusual ways — expanding abbreviations and including language that’s at the lower secondary education level, if possible, or making available a version that doesn’t require advanced reading ability.
  • Robust: Your website’s content can be interpreted by various devices and platforms. For example, you want to ensure content is compatible with user agents like assistive technologies. 

There is software available to help you ensure your website complies with the ADA and WCAG standards. Talk with your website designer/developer to see what they recommend to make your platform ADA compliant.