Since its enactment in 1990, the Americans with Disability Act (“ADA”) requires businesses to make accommodations for people with disabilities. The ADA, including Title III, however, only applies to businesses with 15 or more employees and those with physical business locations. Typically, the ADA is associated with physical accommodations, such as ramps for wheelchair accessibility to a business. However, nowadays these accommodations have spread their application to the digital world.
Title III of the ADA prohibits private entities from discriminating against individuals with disabilities by denying “full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations of any place of public accommodation by any person who owns, leases (or leases to), or operates a place of public accommodation.” Complaints filed under the ADA have two main allegations: (1) the website is a place of public accommodation, and (2) the website has barriers which deny people with disabilities the right of equal access.
The question now becomes, whether your business’ website is subject to ADA compliance.
It is now a point of debate whether a place of public accommodation includes a business’ website. The National Council of Disability, and the United States Department of Justice (“DOJ”) both hold the belief that Title III applies to business websites. As previously mentioned, a business may be outside the scope of ADA oversight if the business does not have a physical location. Courts are split on whether Title III’s coverage is limited to physical spaces and whether a website requires a nexus to a physical location in order to comply with Title III. The 11th Circuit has held in Gomez v. Bang & Olufsen Am., Inc., 2017, that a website wholly unconnected to a physical location is generally not a place of public accommodation.
If you have found your business’ website must meet ADA standards, here’s where to fine guidelines on becoming ADA Compliant.
The DOJ holds the position that websites required to comply with the ADA should meet the standards set by the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (“WCAG”) established by the World Wide Web Consortium (“W3C”). There are four principles that the guidelines establish: (1) the ability of the user to perceive the website; (2) users’ ability to operate the website; (3) the user’s ability to understand the information; and (4) the websites ability to progress with technological advancement.
The WCAG 2.0 Guidelines have three levels of accommodations for websites: A, AA, and AAA, with AAA being the most burdensome but also yielding the most accessible website. The level the courts rely on is the AA conformance. You can view all of the specific requirements for meeting AA conformance at this link.
However, simply complying with all of these requirements is not the ultimate objective. The DOJ released a statement on September 25, 2018, which states that the importance is whether a disabled person can access the company’s goods, services, and benefits through its websites. This letter by the DOJ makes the complete compliance with the AA guidelines more flexible to allow courts to dismiss suits against businesses who have made an effort to comply and accommodate people with disabilities. Regardless, lawsuits for the non-compliance of ADA accommodations on websites are sources of tremendous litigation, and steps should be taken to make your website accessible for people with disabilities.
If you are unsure about whether your website is ADA compliant, and you believe that Title III applies to your business, copy and paste your website address into this website to do a fast-free test: https://wave.webaim.org/.
When in doubt, give us a call at 813-922-5290. We are more than happy to sit down with you and chat about your ADA concerns.