Website Accessibility and ADA Compliance Basics Every Small Business Owner Needs To Know

Find out how to get a tax break to make your website more ADA Compliant (and avoid getting sued)!

Should you make your website compatible?

YES, your website should be accessible to everyone who might want to use your services, purchase your products, or interact with your organization. Compliance-related lawsuits are on the rise across the country and several weeks ago, the U.S. Supreme Court has effectively shared its stance is that your website is the new front door of your business – and it should be at least as accessible as a physical front door of a brick-and-mortar business.

Are you at risk of being sued?

Yes, because the number of website compliance related lawsuits has tripled over the past 12 months! Under some new State laws, each violation of the ADA is considered a civil rights violation and subject to a minimum statutory penalty of $4,000, plus attorney’s fees. (And from our experience, most websites we’ve tested have more than 10 violations!)

What if your business is tiny – are you still at risk of getting sued?

Yes, but the risk should be lower for a while because if you have a very small organization, you will probably not be held to the same requirements as larger companies. If you are considering rebuilding an existing website or creating a new website, it would be worth looking into making it more accessible before you are forced to later by a lawsuit or regulations.

How can I protect myself from a compliance-related lawsuit?

One of the best ways to protect against expensive and time-consuming ADA Compliance lawsuits is to test each page of your website with a website accessibility scanner. A report with errors and warnings with fixes is typically generated after a scan. That report can be used by your web developer to make your website more compliant.

These are the early days of compliance regulations and figuring out how enforcement is going to be handled. Making an effort now to make your website more accessible and closer to compliance seems to help lawsuits turn out more favorably for the business. Ignoring the issue will very likely eventually become a civil rights issue and potentially a long, expensive lawsuit.

Get compliant now and take advantage of the tax credit!

Did you know that the IRS is currently offering small businesses a 50% tax deduction of up to $5000 to help get your website more compliant? The requirements don’t seem very restrictive to qualify for this deduction to us. For your convenience, we’ve linked directly to the details from ADA.gov and the official corresponding tax form #8826 from IRS.gov.

Website accessibility and ADA Compliance is about to become a much bigger deal for small business owners based on the recent activity in the Domino’s Pizza vs Guillermo Robles court case.

Back in 1996, Mr. Robles was trying to order pizza and was unable to because the Domino’s Pizza website was not accessible to his assistive screen-reader software. He felt that Dominos Pizza was being discriminatory by ignoring all modern guidelines and recommendations to make websites more accessible. The 9th Circut Court (in case No. 18-1539) agreed with Mr. Robles – that Dominos should have had plenty of time to put some effort into making sure everyone could order their pizza – even if they can’t see it on the screen and rely on assistive technologies instead.

The Supreme Court refused to hear Domino’s Pizza’s appeal on October 7, 2019. This means that the decision of the 9th Circuit Court stands and Domino’s Pizza will need to take action to make their website more accessible. We all hope they take this opportunity to become a great example of how to do web accessibility correctly.

What is the ADA?

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA for short) was put in place in 1990 (nearly 30 years ago as I write this) in order to protect the rights of those living with disabilities in order to make sure that they could access public buildings and services. As you might imagine, websites and mobile apps were not covered by this back in 1990.

Does the ADA cover digital services like websites and mobile apps – even though it was put in place way back in 1990?

Right now, that depends on who you ask. At the Circuit Court level, this is currently a split issue. Up to this point, US Circuit Courts across the country have not agreed on whether or not the ADA covers digital services like websites and mobile apps.

Is ADA website compliance mandatory?

No, not yet. However, the recent ruling of the 9th Circuit Court and more even recent denial of the appeal by the US Supreme Court will very likely begin forcing the issue.

Standards for website accessibility are likely inevitable – we hope!

We expect that these recent developments will definitely spark more lawsuits and more decisions, which will eventually lead to some standards for website accessibility. It is likely these standards will be largely based on the existing Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).

What is WCAG and why should I care?

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) is a set of documents that outline and provide a single, shared standard for web content accessibility that meets the needs of individuals, organizations, and governments internationally.

There have been 3 versions of WCAG (1.0, 2.0, and 2.1) developed through the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) in cooperation with individuals and organizations around the world since 1999. The newest version, WCAG 2.1, was released much more recently (in June 2018) and is the recommended version to use for any new or updated accessibility policies.

What is the purpose of WCAG?

The 3 distinct WCAG documents explain and describe to developers the details of how to make web content more accessible, including text and multi-media (like photographs, infographics, animations, and video) to people with disabilities. They each contain over a dozen guidelines that are organized under 4 principles: perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust. For each guideline, there are three levels of testable criteria: A, AA, and AAA

Put more simply, the details contained within each of the WCAG documents provide us a framework with which to test accessibility based on how many accessible features are available to the visitor.

The WCAG 1.0 was published and became a W3C recommendation in May 1999 (more than 20 years ago).

Is WCAG a legal requirement?

Yes, WCAG 2.0 A/AA compliance is the current standard for federal agencies and contractors and has been since January 2019. WCAG has been a legal requirement on some level in Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 since 2017.

For private businesses, the answer has historically been much more complicated. As of now, privately-held businesses not required by any law to comply with any specific standard like WCAG, but their websites do have to be accessible based on recent decisions.

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) is explicitly referenced in the refreshed Section 508 guidelines as of 2018 and therefore is formalized under law as the accessibility standard in the context of federal government agencies.

What is Section 508?

Section 508 was made part of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 in 1998 and is a law that requires the Federal Government to provide access to all of its Information and Communication Technology to people with disabilities.

The main purpose of this policy is to help make websites, apps, electronic documents (PDFs, etc) and software systems much more accessible to people living with disabilities.

Who Needs to be Section 508 Compliant?

Federal agencies, all contractors serving the Federal Government, and any organizations that receive any federal funding are required to be Section 508 compliant.

At the time of publishing this (November 2019), there is no law in the United States that legally requires private businesses to meet specific accessibility requirements, but it’s becoming more widely considered advisable to meet WCAG 2.0 Level AA voluntarily or risk being forced by a lawsuit. We at Well Dressed Walrus strongly recommend that you consider being proactive about getting compliant, especially as your organization grows.

Do I need to be 508 compliant?

If you have a growing organization, we suggest that you don’t wait to get a letter from an attorney. The Justice Department of the United States considers Title III of the ADA to apply to the online access and communications of digital public services but has not updated the law to be more specific as of yet. The actual wording doesn’t specify anything other than “places of public accommodation” – but because websites are publicly accessible digital resources, we can understand their position.
The Supreme Court of the United States rejected an appeal from Domino’s Pizza on October 7, 2019 – effectively leaving the company to face a lawsuit by Mr. Guillermo Robles, a blind man who says Dominos’s website and mobile app don’t comply with a federal disabilities law.

This will force the issue, but there’s no telling how long it might take. We recommend that you take steps now to voluntarily get compliant and take advantage of the tax credit while it lasts.

How do I make my website 508 compliant?

Unfortunately, there is no easy answer. Every situation and website is different. However, you can use our free scanner to see where your website is falling short, so you can start taking steps towards Section 508 (WCAG 2.0 Level AA) compliance.

What are Section 508 standards?

Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is currently using WCAG 2.0 Level AA as a basis for compliance standards.

What is a 508 compliant website?

Any website that passes all of the WCAG 2.0 AA Guidelines and therefore is easy to use with assistive technologies would be considered a 508 Compliant website. The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services has put together a very clear and understandable checklist based on the WCAG 2.0 requirements. Any website that follows these guidelines can be considered to be “Section 508 compliant”.

What are the four major categories of accessibility?

While the previous version (1.0) of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) focused heavily on the HTML-centered techniques for accomplishing accessibility, WCAG 2.0 takes a less technical approach. Instead of techniques, it focuses more heavily on the principles of website accessibility and includes some techniques in additional documents. By focusing more on guiding principles rather than specific techniques, the new version is more flexible and encourages developers to think through the process more conceptually.

An accessible website must have content that is:

Perceivable

Users must be able to perceive the information being presented (it cannot be invisible to all of their senses).

Operable

Users must be able to operate the user interface components and the interface must not require any interaction that a user cannot actually perform.

Understandable

Users must be able to understand the information as well as work within the user interface.

Robust

As technologies and user agents evolve, the content must remain reliably accessible for users, even those using assistive technologies.

How is WCAG related to Section 508?

Section 508 is a law that references the WCAG documentation as part of its compatibility requirements.

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) is a set of documents that outline the specifics of and provide a single, shared standard for web content accessibility that strives to meet the needs of individuals, organizations, and governments everywhere.

These WCAG guidelines are already used as part of the Section 508 compatibility requirements, so it is likely that future laws will also point to the WCAG 2.0 Level AA as a starting place.

What is the difference between WCAG and Section 508?

Section 508 is an amendment to the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the WCAG is a set of documents describing accessibility standards.

Section 508 was originally added as an amendment to the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 in 1986 and points to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) as the single, shared standard for web accessibility compliance. The WCAG is a set of documents describing accessibility standards decided upon by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), which is an international community that develops open standards to ensure the long-term growth of the Web.

What are the differences between ADA, Section 508, and WCAG?

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a federal civil rights law that is intended to prohibit discrimination based on disability and it imposes accessibility requirements on public accommodations.

in 1998, Section 508 was added to the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and is a law that requires the federal agencies, all contractors serving the Federal Government, and any organizations that receive any federal funding to provide access to all of its Information and Communication Technology to people with disabilities.

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) put together the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) as a set of documents that outline and provide a single, shared standard for web content accessibility that meets the needs of individuals, organizations, and governments internationally. So far, there have been 3 versions of WCAG (1.0, 2.0, and 2.1. If When any new website and mobile app accessibility laws are put in place, WCAG 2.0 or 2.1 will very likely become the required minimum or at least a starting point.

Is your website or mobile app covered by the ADA?

Based on the way Title III of the ADA is worded, it is not clear whether websites and mobile apps are considered “places of public accommodation”. However, you should know that the United States Justice Department does consider Title III to apply to the online access and communications of digital public services but has not amended the law to clarify this – yet.

How do I make my website screen-reader friendly?

If you follow these four tips, you’ll be working towards making your website “Section 508 compliant”, which means that you will be taking the right steps to ensure all of your customers have an excellent experience – even those using screen readers:

  1. Make sure all pages have an informative and unique title
  2. Make sure your site is navigation-friendly
  3. Every image needs a clear and helpful alt attribute (unless it is a spacer image)
  4. Be sure to use Role Attributes and Landmarks in the HTML code to define header, navigation, and other page sections

How do I make my website accessible?

Some of the guidelines contained in the WCAG 2.0 are easier to implement than others, but if you follow this Section 508 compliance checklist from the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, you’ll be on your way to a much more accessible website.

How to check if a web page is accessible?

There are several methods, but the most convenient tool we’ve come across so far is this single-page scanner: WAVE Web Accessibility Evaluation Tool

If you’re comfortable with a little HTML coding or know someone who is, there are several fantastic browser extensions for both Chrome and Firefox, but two of our favorites are WAVE and Axe.

Firefox

Chrome

These tools will show you where your website is falling short of being considered “fully accessible”. If your website is like most, you may notice several errors and warnings – so try to fix the higher priority errors first. Some of the suggestions may be a bit technical, but some are straightforward. If you find any of the report confusing, feel free to ask.

Are you excluding 12-20% of your potential customers?

It is estimated that 15 percent of all people globally – just about 1 billion human beings – have some sort of disability. I also found a statistic from the 2017 Disability Statistics Annual Report that some states have an even larger percentage of American citizens living with a disability – with some more than 20%. Maya Angelou once said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” If some of your customers feel excluded, it seems that it is only a matter of time until an attorney involved.

Why should you care?

Are 12-19% of your potential customers already feeling excluded?

Most of us have felt excluded or left out at some point. If we can try to remember that, then we’ll have a better chance of being more inclusive across all systems and processes – as well as communications. It helps us to remember Maya Angelou’s words when she said that “… people will never forget how you made them feel”.

It is the right thing to do!

The court’s interpretation of Dominos’s position is basically that they are willing to sell pizza to everyone except those that are blind. When you put it this way: “If you are blind, we don’t want your money”, it certainly starts to sound like a civil rights issue.
The number of lawsuits has been climbing steadily.

Don’t wait to take advantage of the tax credit incentive of up to $5000 for getting compliant now

Did you know that the US Government will split the cost of getting compliant with you? At least, that is what their current tax credit campaign seems to be offering to us. It basically is saying, if I’m reading the requirements correctly at ADA.gov. We’ve worked with many small businesses that easily full under the guidelines of having “total revenues of $1,000,000 or less in the previous tax year or 30 or fewer full-time employees.”

If that sounds like your company might qualify, the IRS is offering a 50% (up to $5000) tax credit to help small businesses make their customer-facing websites more accessible. I went and found the official requirements from ADA.gov, and we found the link to the correct form (8826) from the IRS that you can share with your CPA.

Can you help me check (and fix!) my website?

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