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Instituted in 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) established requirements to ensure equal rights and opportunities for disabled Americans in many aspects of life, including employment, public accommodations, transportation, and telecommunications. The ADA bans discrimination against individuals with disabilities and mandates accessibility and reasonable accommodations to aid them in being active members of society. The ADA’s scope has evolved beyond the workplace to include broader accessibility provisions for disabled Americans in all areas of public life.
In today’s digital age, these provisions now extend to the Internet. Organizations are required to ensure that their websites are accessible to all users. Organizations must provide disabled individuals with equal access to information and services in accordance with the ADA. Maintaining ADA compliance has become a top concern for businesses as the rise of internet “bounty hunters” and increasing litigation rates have become growing threats. Here, we examine the scope of ADA compliance and the role of “bounty hunters” in its enforcement. We also discuss how these factors underscore the need to enlist expert-level software development services to operate successfully in this challenging environment.
The ADA doesn’t specifically address online compliance, even after several amendments to the Act were ratified in 2008, when 74% of the US adult population was using the internet regularly, according to Statista. It is the courts that ultimately determine if and how ADA standards apply to websites. This makes it difficult to define the parameters that organizations must adhere to.
The US. Department of Justice has interpreted the ADA to apply to websites, considering them places of public accommodation, as Pew Research reports that approximately 80% of Americans make online purchases. Today, the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) are the most widely recognized and accepted standards for website accessibility. These guidelines were drafted by the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). The current version contains specific guidelines and best practices to make web content perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust (P.O.U.R.) for disabled individuals. Courts refer to the WCAG when evaluating website accessibility lawsuits. While no well-defined set of national guidelines exists, it is recommended that organizations align with the WCAG guidelines to achieve ADA compliance for their websites to ensure equal access for all users.
Fundamental principles that aid in achieving compliance include ensuring that users with visual or hearing impairments can perceive all information on your website. This includes providing alternative text for images and captions for videos. Additionally, it is important to make all website functionality, including navigation and interactive features accessible via a keyboard alone, which is essential for individuals who utilize keyboard navigation or rely upon assistive technologies.
Additionally, color selections and contrast proportions are critical, as about 4.5% of the world’s population has some form of color blindness, making it necessary to ensure that visually impaired users can perceive content. Relying solely on color is insufficient and can cause challenges for some users.
Alternative text for links that is descriptive and provides context and meaning is important for screen reader users. Also, clear, consistent, and intuitive navigation structure that allows users to navigate your website easily is a must, as are forms and input fields that are accessible and include labels, clear instructions, and error validation messages for those using assistive technologies to interact with and complete forms successfully.
Non-compliance with website accessibility guidelines and failing to maintain an accessible website can result in several consequences, impacting an organization’s reputation and causing legal ramifications. Lawsuits and legal complaints can be filed by disabled individuals or advocacy groups that claim ADA or state/local accessibility law violations. This can lead to exorbitant legal expenses and penalties. Remediating an inaccessible website may include redesigning elements, modifying code, or implementing assistive technologies, which can also be costly.
Additionally, it can negatively impact an organization’s brand and reputation, appearing to the public as a failure by the organization to accommodate the needs of disabled individuals. This can lead to negative media coverage and public backlash.
Furthermore, maintaining an inaccessible website excludes a sizable portion of the population with disabilities, preventing these individuals from being able to access products, services, or information, resulting in missed business opportunities. At the very least, it causes a poor user experience, decreased engagement with your website, and a loss of customers.
To mitigate these risks, organizations are encouraged to prioritize website accessibility proactively, align with recognized accessibility guidelines (such as WCAG), regularly assess and improve accessibility, and seek expert guidance. By doing so, organizations can ensure compliance, provide equal access to individuals with disabilities, and avoid potential legal trouble and reputational damage.
“Bounty hunters” is a term used to describe individuals or groups who actively search for inaccessible websites and file lawsuits or legal complaints against organizations that are not ADA compliant. These groups typically include disability rights advocates, law firms that specialize in accessibility litigation, or individuals attempting to profit from financial settlements.
Bounty hunters identify websites that do not comply with accessibility standards set by the WCAG and initiate legal action to enforce ADA compliance. They may also perform manual or automated accessibility audits, review websites for non-compliant characteristics, and proceed with legal action if they find significant accessibility barriers.
Those acting as bounty hunters are motivated by a variety of factors. Disability rights advocates may take legal action as a means to promote accessibility, raise awareness, and to fight for equal access for disabled individuals. However some law firms and individuals are financially motivated and see this as an opportunity to profit from settlements or legal fees. While bounty hunters have gained attention for the cause of website accessibility, their actions have come under scrutiny as well, given the significant increase in lawsuits where legal action is often taken without first taking steps to resolve the accessibility issues outside of the legal arena. Still, the main goal of website accessibility advocates is to ensure compliance and equal access for disabled individuals.
It can be difficult to achieve and maintain compliance as the WCAG guidelines for website accessibility can be complex, technical, and are constantly evolving to address emerging challenges. Making websites accessible in a way that aligns with the WCAG often requires modification to the code, design, and user interface of the site. It also may require providing alternative or supplementary text for images, incorporating keyboard navigation, modifying color and contrast, and other technical aspects. Maintaining accessibility also requires regular updates. Without having expertise in software development, organizations struggle to execute the proper changes to achieve or maintain accessibility. The amount of time and effort that goes into website accessibility is difficult for many organizations to balance with other priorities and resource limitations.
Enlisting expert software developers with experience in ADA compliance is key. It is essential to partner with skilled digital programmers that possess specialized industry experience and also understand accessibility guidelines, regulations, and best practices. Digital specialists of this caliber will be able to assess, identify, and address any accessibility shortcomings in an existing website or be able to build and customize a new one that is totally compliant.
Additionally, establishing a long-term relationship with a trusted software development services company will provide organizations with the on-going support needed to ensure continued compliance, which is inclusive of regular audits, updates, and essential maintenance.
As website "bounty hunters" continue to target organizations whose websites fall short of maintaining ADA compliance, businesses must prioritize accessibility to avoid costly litigation and damage to their brands. By partnering with a trusted and dedicated software development company, organizations can proactively address ADA compliance requirements, protect their interests, and provide equal access to all users.
Chetu, Inc. does not affect the opinion of this article. Any mention of specific names for software, companies or individuals does not constitute an endorsement from either party unless otherwise specified. All case studies and blogs are written with the full cooperation, knowledge and participation of the individuals mentioned. This blog should not be construed as legal advice.
Chetu was incorporated in 2000 and is headquartered in Florida. We deliver World-Class Software Development Solutions serving entrepreneurs to Fortune 500 clients. Our services include process and systems design, package implementation, custom development, business intelligence and reporting, systems integration, as well as testing, maintenance and support. Chetu's expertise spans across the entire IT spectrum.
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