By: Chad Lawie, Founder, WP Harbor
Updated November 17th, 2022

I understand you’re busy, so I’m going to get straight to the point with a brief summary, and then I’ll give you a few simple and actionable steps to protect against ADA litigation.

Next…I’ll delve more into the background details, and finally I’ll provide a point by point summary of Web Content Accesability Guidlines (WCAG).

Before I get to all of that, I want to note that I’m just the owner of a website agency. I’m not an attorney and none of the information provided should be construed as legal advice.

Summary Overview

Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is being interpreted by courts to include websites as “places of public accommodation”. This means that a disabled person (for example, visually or physically impaired) should be able to access, navigate, and use the content of your website.

You should be concerned about this, because if your website is not accessible to people with disabilities, your company could be sued.

Simple Steps To Protect Against Litigation

Step 1. You should add an Accessibility Policy to your website to communicate to visitors that you’re striving for accessibility and give them a mechanism for submitting accessibility feedback so you can resolve any issues they experience prior to a lawsuit being filed. You can view an example accessibility policy here: https://wpharbor.com/website-accessibility-template/

Step 2. Add a free accessibility plugin to your site. These plugins can’t resolve all accessibility issues (as you will see below), but they are a quick step in the right direction. We recommend WP Accessibility.

Step 3. Work to make your website accessible according to WCAG Level AA standards. Unless you are very technical, you will most likely want to delegate this job to an experienced web development agency like WP Harbor.

What is website accessibility?

ADA lawsuits filed by year (2016-2019)Website Accessibility makes it possible for disabled individuals to use your website.

Visually impaired individuals use screen readers, among many other tools, to navigate a website. Physically impaired individuals, unable to use a mouse, may only use a keyboard, or another device, to navigate a website. Hearing impaired need captions, etc.

Is there a law requiring your website to be accessible?

Believe it or not, no, there isn’t.

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 pre-dates the internet by about <a “href=”https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/world-wide-web-launches-in-public-domain”>3 years and provides no guidance on how a website should be made accessible.

Regardless, courts are ruling in favor of plaintiffs, as the Supreme Court did with their decision against Domino’s Pizza.

It’s a bit of a short circuit in the system. Courts are considering websites “places of public accommodation” under Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

In The National Association of the Deaf vs. Netflix, the United States Department of Justice submitted a statement:

“The Department of Justice is currently developing regulations specifically addressing the accessibility of goods and services offered via the web by entities covered by the ADA. The fact that the regulatory process is not yet complete in no way indicates that web services are not already covered by title III.”

Statement of Interest of the United States Department of Justice  (page 9)

So what are the rules to comply with?

ADA lawsuits by industry breakdown for 2019Courts are requiring businesses to be in compliance with Section 508 of The Rehabilitation Act. This law requires federal agencies to make their electronic information accessible in accordance with W3C’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).

There are 3 tiers of accessibility compliance outlined by the <a “href=”https://www.w3.org/TR/WCAG21/”> Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG):

  • A (Beginner)
  • AA (Intermediate)
  • AAA (Advanced)

Small businesses should comply with Level A (Beginner) and AA (Intermediate) guidelines. These are the accessibility standards most often referenced in court cases.

Level AAA (Advanced) is typically reserved for organizations that specifically cater to disabled individuals.

66% of the world’s largest retailers have been affected by an ADA lawsuit. 60% of the top U.S. restaurant chains have been affected <a “href=”https://blog.usablenet.com/usablenet-releases-its-2019-ada-web-accessibility-and-app-lawsuit-report”>(Source Usable.com) .

As a small organization, it is probably unlikely you will be targeted in the near future. However, there is no guarantee you won’t be affected:

“Just one blind activist sued 175 stores in 2 years. At first, she targeted big-name stores like Sephora, but then she filed a complaints against smaller businesses, like local shoe stores, bakeries, or caterers who have just a small store in a local mall.”

When does your website need to be ADA compliant?

There isn’t a set deadline for ADA compliance. Compliance and requirement details are being fleshed out by court rulings happening across the country. The general direction this is heading indicates all websites will need to be ADA compliant at some point in the future.

Website accessibility lawsuits have increased by over 753% in recent years — from 262 lawsuits in 2016 to 2,235 in 2019 (<a “href=”https://www.natlawreview.com/article/when-good-sites-go-bad-growing-risk-website-accessibility-litigation> (Source: NatLawReview.com).

With ADA lawsuits increasing, it is wise to take steps to protect your business from potential legal action if possible.

Do you need to handle this now?

For now, you may be able to fly under the radar without complying due to the sheer number of websites that exist. But keep in mind that when ADA accessibility cases are filed, the plaintiffs are winning.

You may choose to wait this out until more small businesses are being affected and the <a “href=”https://www.ada.gov/anprm2010/web%20anprm_2010.htm”>exact accessibility expectations are clarified.

It is a bit of a gamble to assume you won’t be targeted and all signs point to this being something that will be required of all websites in the future.  The internet has become a critical part of modern life, and making it accessible to people with disabilities is a growing concern.

What, exactly, does it mean to make your website ADA compliant?

Unfortunately, there are no hard and fast rules to conform to. The World Wide Web Consortium publishes “guidelines” which are listed below. In general, there are usually changes that need to be made to the website so that all its content is consumable by those with disabilities.

For instance, all website images need a description (called an “alt tag”) so that text-to-voice software can communicate the content of the image to visually disabled visitors. Without this tag, the software has no way of knowing what the image is.

Another example is being able to navigate a website using only a keyboard. This is important for users that do not have the ability to control a pointing device (such as a mouse).

What are the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines?

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) are broken down into Level A, Level AA, and Level AAA. Businesses and organizations are encouraged to meet Level AA.

The summarized guidelines provided below are incomplete, and in many cases exceptions apply. For the complete text of WCAG visit: w3.org/TR/WCAG20

Website Accessibility – Level A

1.1.1 Non-text Content
All non-text content that is presented to the user has a text alternative that serves the equivalent purpose.
1.2.1 Audio-only and Video-only (Prerecorded)
An alternative is provided that presents equivalent information to pre-recorded audio or video.
1.2.2 Captions (Prerecorded)
Captions are provided for all prerecorded audio content in synchronized media.
1.2.3 Audio Description or Media Alternative (Prerecorded)
An alternative for time-based media or audio description of the prerecorded video content is provided for synchronized media.
1.3.1 Info and Relationships
Information, structure, and relationships conveyed through presentation can be programmatically determined or are available in text.
1.3.2 Meaningful Sequence
When the sequence in which content is presented affects its meaning, a correct reading sequence can be programmatically determined.
1.3.3 Sensory Characteristics
Instructions provided for understanding and operating content do not rely solely on sensory characteristics of components such as shape, color, size, visual location, orientation, or sound.
1.4.1 Use of Color
Color is not used as the only visual means of conveying information, indicating an action, prompting a response, or distinguishing a visual element.
1.4.2 Audio Control
If any audio on a Web page plays automatically for more than 3 seconds, either a mechanism is available to pause or stop the audio, or a mechanism is available to control audio volume independently from the overall system volume level.
2.1.1 Keyboard
All functionality of the content is operable through a keyboard interface without requiring specific timings for individual keystrokes.
2.1.2 No Keyboard Trap
If keyboard focus can be moved to a component of the page using a keyboard interface, then focus can be moved away from that component using only a keyboard interface.
2.1.4 Character Key Shortcuts
If a keyboard shortcut is implemented in content, it is possible to turn it off, remappable, or active only on focus.
2.2.1 Timing Adjustable
Time limits can be turned off or adjusted, exceptions apply.
2.2.2 Pause, Stop, Hide
For any moving, blinking or scrolling information that (1) starts automatically, (2) lasts more than five seconds, and (3) is presented in parallel with other content, there is a mechanism for the user to pause, stop, or hide it.
2.3.1 Three Flashes or Below Threshold
Web pages do not contain anything that flashes more than three times in any one second period, or the flash is below the general flash and red flash thresholds.
2.4.1 Bypass Blocks
A mechanism is available to bypass blocks of content that are repeated on multiple Web pages.
2.4.2 Page Titled
Web pages have titles that describe topic or purpose.
2.4.3 Focus Order
Focusable components receive focus in an order that preserves meaning and operability.
2.4.4 Link Purpose (In Context)
The purpose of each link can be determined from the link text alone or from the link text together with its programmatically determined link context.
2.5.1 Pointer Gestures
All functionality that uses multipoint or path-based gestures for operation can be operated with a single pointer without a path-based gesture.
2.5.2 Pointer Cancellation
Functionality that can be operated using a single pointer follows WCAG guidelines for completion and abortion actions.
2.5.3 Label in Name
For user interface components with labels that include text or images of text, the name contains the text that is presented visually.
2.5.4 Motion Actuation
Functionality that can be operated by device motion can also be operated by user interface components and motion actuation can be disabled.
3.1.1 Language of Page
The default human language of each Web page can be programmatically determined.
3.2.1 On Focus
When any user interface component receives focus, it does not initiate a change of context.
3.2.2 On Input
Changing the setting of any user interface component does not automatically cause a change of context
3.3.1 Error Identification
If an input error is automatically detected, the item that is in error is identified and the error is described to the user in text.
3.3.2 Labels or Instructions
Labels or instructions are provided when content requires user input.
4.1.1 Parsing
Markup languages, elements have complete start and end tags.
4.1.2 Name, Role, Value
For all user interface components, the name and role can be programmatically determined, value can be set, and all can be accessed via assistive technologies.

Website Accessibility – Level AA

1.2.4 Captions (Live)

Captions are provided for all live audio content in synchronized media.

1.2.5 Audio Description (Prerecorded)

Audio description is provided for all prerecorded video content in synchronized media.

1.3.4 Orientation

Content does not restrict its view and operation to a single display orientation, such as portrait or landscape, unless a specific display orientation is essential.

NOTE
Examples where a particular display orientation may be essential are a bank check, a piano application, slides for a projector or television, or virtual reality content where binary display orientation is not applicable.

1.3.5 Identify Input Purpose

The purpose of each input field collecting information about the user can be programmatically determined when:

  • The input field serves a purpose identified in the Input Purposes for User Interface Components section; and
  • The content is implemented using technologies with support for identifying the expected meaning for form input data.
1.4.3 Contrast (Minimum)
The visual presentation of text and images of text has a contrast ratio of at least 4.5:1.
1.4.4 Resize text
Except for captions and images of text, text can be resized without assistive technology up to 200 percent without loss of content or functionality.
1.4.5 Images of Text
Text is used to convey information rather than images of text.
1.4.10 Reflow
Content can be presented without loss of information or functionality, and without requiring scrolling in two dimensions.
1.4.11 Non-text Contrast
User Interface Components and Graphical Objects required to understand the content have a contrast ratio of at least 3:1.
1.4.12 Text Spacing
No loss of content or functionality occurs by setting text properties to WCAG standards.
1.4.13 Content on Hover or Focus
Additional content available on hover or focus is dismissable, hoverable, and persistent.
2.4.5 Multiple Ways
More than one way is available to locate a web page within a set of web pages except where the web page is the result of, or a step in, a process.
2.4.6 Headings and Labels
Headings and labels describe topic or purpose.
2.4.7 Focus Visible
Keyboard focus indicator is visible.
3.1.2 Language of Parts
The human language (English, French, etc.) of each passage or phrase in the content can be programmatically determined.
3.2.3 Consistent Navigation
Components that have the same functionality within a set of Web pages are identified consistently.
3.2.5 Change on Request
Changes of context are initiated only by user request or a mechanism is available to turn off such changes.
3.3.3 Error Suggestion
If an input error is automatically detected and suggestions for correction are known, then the suggestions are provided to the user.
3.3.4 Error Prevention (Legal, Financial, Data)
Legal commitments or financial transactions are reversible, checked for input errors, and confirmed before final submission.
4.1.3 Status Messages
Status messages can be presented to the user by assistive technologies without receiving focus.

Website Accessibility – Level AAA

1.2.6 Sign Language (Prerecorded)
Sign language interpretation is provided for all prerecorded audio content in synchronized media.
1.2.7 Extended Audio Description (Prerecorded)
Where pauses in foreground audio are insufficient to allow audio descriptions to convey the sense of the video, extended audio description is provided for all prerecorded video content in synchronized media.
1.2.8 Media Alternative (Prerecorded)
An alternative for time-based media is provided for all prerecorded synchronized media and for all prerecorded video-only media.
1.2.9 Audio-only (Live)
An alternative for time-based media that presents equivalent information for live audio-only content is provided.
1.3.6 Identify Purpose
In content implemented using markup languages, the purpose of User Interface Components, icons, and regions can be programmatically determined.
1.4.6 Contrast (Enhanced)
The visual presentation of text and images of text has a contrast ratio of at least 7:1.
1.4.7 Low or No Background Audio
Any background music in prerecorded audio speeches can be turned off, or is 20 decibels lower than for foreground speech.
1.4.8 Visual Presentation
Text blocks allow control of background color and text size. Text is not justified, width is limited to 80 characters and line spacing is 1.5.
1.4.9 Images of Text (No Exception)
Images of text are only used for pure decoration or where a particular presentation of text is essential to the information being conveyed.
2.1.3 Keyboard (No Exception)
All functionality of the content is operable through a keyboard interface without requiring specific timings for individual keystrokes.
2.2.3 No Timing
Timing is not an essential part of the event or activity presented by the content, except for non-interactive synchronized media and real-time events.
2.2.4 Interruptions
Interruptions can be postponed or suppressed by the user, except interruptions involving an emergency.
2.2.5 Re-authenticating
When an authenticated session expires, the user can continue the activity without loss of data after re-authenticating.
2.2.6 Timeouts
Users are warned of the duration of any user inactivity that could cause data loss, unless the data is preserved for more than 20 hours when the user does not take any actions.
2.3.2 Three Flashes
Web pages do not contain anything that flashes more than three times in any one second period.
2.3.3 Animation from Interactions
Motion animation triggered by interaction can be disabled, unless the animation is essential to the functionality or the information being conveyed.
2.4.8 Location
Information about the user’s location within a set of Web pages is available.
2.4.9 Link Purpose (Link Only)
A mechanism is available to allow the purpose of each link to be identified from link text alone, except where the purpose of the link would be ambiguous to users in general.
2.4.10 Section Headings
Section headings are used to organize the content.
2.5.5 Target Size
The size of the target for pointer inputs is at least 44 by 44 CSS pixels.
2.5.6 Concurrent Input Mechanisms
Web content does not restrict use of input modalities available on a platform.
3.1.3 Unusual Words
A mechanism is available for identifying specific definitions of words or phrases used in an unusual or restricted way, including idioms and jargon.
3.1.4 Abbreviations
A mechanism for identifying the expanded form or meaning of abbreviations is available.
3.1.5 Reading Level
Text does not require reading ability more advanced than the lower secondary education level, or an alternative version is available.
3.1.6 Pronunciation
A mechanism is available for identifying specific pronunciation of words where meaning of the words, in context, is ambiguous without knowing the pronunciation.
3.2.5 Change on Request
Changes of context are initiated only by user request or a mechanism is available to turn off such changes.
3.3.5 Help
Context-sensitive help is available.
3.3.6 Error Prevention (All)
Information submissions are reversible, checked for input errors, confirmed before final submission.
Written By:
Chad lawie
Founder, WP Harbor
800-407-1114
[email protected]
800 E. Ellis Road, Suite 576
Muskegon, MI 49441

LEGAL DISCLAIMER: I’m not a lawyer and you should not take anything I’ve written here as legal advice. The purpose of this information is to provide a basic understanding of WCAG and a solution that should satisfy most disabled website visitors.