More than half a decade after the industry developed its own standards in light of a lack of meaningful guidance from regulators, the Department of Justice recently issued guidance on compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) for website accessibility. Although the DOJ has yet to issue enforceable regulations with explicit standards for website accessibility, the new DOJ guidelines reaffirm the role of “WCAG” standards compliance and signal increased attention to the importance to make the Internet more accessible.
What do the guidelines on ADA applicability to websites suggest?
Guidelines illustrate DOJ’s position that ADA requirements apply to everyone in line company services, programs and activities open to the public, as well as state and local governments. The guidelines recognize that website accessibility can be achieved by adhering to the industry-developed Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1. WCAG states that web content should be “perceivable, operational, understandable and robust” for everyone. Specifically, users must be able to perceive information presented by sight, sound or touch; all navigable components of the website must function and include full interaction capabilities for all people; the information must be easy to understand; the content should be reliably interpretable by most common assistive technologies.
According to the DOJ, barriers to website accessibility include:
- Only color markers to sort information: When websites sort information solely by color indices, people who are color blind or who use screen readers cannot access information in the same way as others.
- Images without text alternatives: Visually impaired people are unable to understand the content and purpose of images when no text alternatives are provided.
- Videos without subtitles: People who are hard of hearing may not be able to understand the information presented in a video if the video does not have subtitles.
How does the guidance suggest websites comply with the ADA?
The DOJ encourages affected businesses that operate websites to confirm accessibility through automated accessibility systems as well as manual checks and to include features for the public to report accessibility issues. The guide provides resources such as a comprehensive accessibility guide, a link to WCAG, and websites with tools and training on implementing website accessibility requirements.
The guide recommends the following controls to ensure web accessibility:
- Color contrast
- Text hints
- Text alternatives
- Video captions
- Labels, keyboard access and clear instructions in form fields
Businesses should take advantage of guidance from the DOJ to assess whether their websites are accessible. Doing so in consultation with legal counsel can also mitigate the risk of enforcement action, with private plaintiffs routinely pursuing class action lawsuits under the ADA and state laws like the California Consumer Privacy Act.
Full guidance can be found here.