Val Stepanova
By:  Val Stepanova

Published: September 13, 2023

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Last Updated: October 16, 2023

Navigating the Legal and Ethical Aspects of ADA Compliance

In this article

On my way back from HubSpot's INBOUND, I grabbed a copy of The Economist at the airport. As I flipped through the pages, “Lawsuits over disabled Americans’ access to websites have surged” article on the uptick in ADA-related lawsuits for website accessibility got me thinking. ADA compliance isn't just a legal requirement—it's the right thing to do.

The ADA

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was originally implemented in 1990 for the purpose of inclusivity. Its goal was to allow people with disabilities to have the same opportunities as everyone else in public and private places.

The legislation focused on removing barriers in physical locations, such as buildings, schools, and workplaces. It created requirements for wheelchair ramps, Braille signage, and accessible restroom facilities, among other accommodations.

As the digital world has evolved into an extension of our physical spaces, websites and apps became virtual storefronts, classrooms, and offices. The ADA has been adapted, albeit slowly, to include the realm of digital accessibility.

While the law itself hasn't been updated to outline specific digital standards, the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) have become the de facto standard cited in lawsuits and compliance checks.

According to The Economist, 16,700 digital-accessibility lawsuits have been filed since 2018.

And while the ADA only permits plaintiffs to recover attorneys' fees, New York and California allow plaintiffs to tack on state-level claims to their federal cases and sue for damages. The financial incentives for both plaintiffs and lawyers are hard to ignore. What’s also interesting is that the Department of Justice has started to take action. A few examples are companies like Rite Aid and Kroger for creating inaccessible COVID-19 vaccine portals.

The Human Element

Legal implications aside, the DOJ emphasizes that inaccessible web content excludes people with disabilities from all aspects of daily living. Real people who navigate the web using screen readers, captioning, and voice recognition software. Essentially, ADA compliance is not just about trying to avoid being sued – it's about allowing equal access for everyone, regardless of their physical abilities and ensuring they can participate in the digital world.

The Practical Steps

So, where do you start to make a website ADA-compliant? While the ADA itself is a bit vague, the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), last updated in July 2023, offer a more detailed roadmap. These guidelines cover aspects like color contrast, text cues, image alt text, and video captions. They also ensure that a user can navigate your website using just the keyboard. This is a good starting point.

You can use automated accessibility checkers. They can be helpful, but they're not a magic bullet. A manual check can provide a more accurate sense of your website's accessibility. Perhaps consider including a manual check into your marketing or web dev team’s workflow before publishing that shiny new landing page live. This could be a practical way to ensure that your new page is accessible by all.

The Business Case

If ethical and legal aspects are not enough, ADA compliance isn't just a cost or the right thing to do – it's an investment in a larger audience. According to Forbes, in 2022, only 3% of the internet was accessible to people with disabilities. According to the ADA, there has been a three-year lag between the creation of new technology and the availability of an accessible version). And there are 26% of American adults who live with a disability.

The Future of ADA Compliance

As technology evolves, so does the scope of ADA compliance. Congress intends for the ADA to keep pace with our rapidly changing digital landscape. They even introduced a bill, called the Websites and Software Applications Accessibility Act, which would require the DOJ and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to set and enforce standards for websites and apps. Public entities aside, the bill proposes that commercial providers must make their websites and applications accessible to all users.

This bill goes beyond the ADA to cover commercial providers who design, develop and modify websites or applications to certain covered entities and requires these commercial providers to follow the accessibility regulations promulgated pursuant to the legislation.

The Department of Justice has reached numerous agreements that include web accessibility requirements, so we know it considers it a priority. For example, on August 4, 2023, the DOJ released a proposed rule outlining technical requirements for web-based services provided by state and local governments. Its goal is to make all web forms content, including mobile apps, accessible to people with disabilities.

Despite slow progress, the evolving legislative landscape will strengthen the critical role of ADA compliance, making it an indispensable part of a world that is becoming increasingly digital.

Let's Talk Compliance

Interested in ADA compliance? Our team is here to make your digital assets accessible and compliant. Reach out, and let's make the web a place for everyone.