ADA Compliance on Websites—Why it Matters

It’s been said that the one constant in life is change, and this is especially true in the digital space. Your website must be easy to find, quick to load, and even easier to use, but It’s equally important that it stays in step with an array of ever-evolving standards affecting everything from CSS to SEO.

The online landscape also encompasses some legal components, including at-times confusing compliance and regulations regarding things like PCI DSS, GDPR, email address collection, data privacy laws, HIPPA … the list goes on. This brings us to ADA (Americans With Disabilities Act) compliance, which simply means ensuring that your website meets accessibility standards for users with disabilities. This isn’t just where the laws are heading, but it’s the best thing you can do to honor ALL of your customers.

A Little Background

In September 2019, the California Court of Appeal affirmed a ruling that an inaccessible restaurant website violated the Unruh Civil Rights Act (Civil Code, Section 51), which provides protection from discrimination by all business establishments in California, including housing and public accommodations. As part of the ruling, the court ordered the site to comply with WCAG 2.0 Level AA standards.

That same year, the State of California passed legislation (A.B. 434) requiring websites of state agencies and entities to meet the standards of WCAG 2.0—at a minimum of the Level AA success criteria. Per this new law, on July 1, 2019 and every two years thereafter, the state agency or entity must post a certification from its Director and Chief Information Officer to confirm the site’s compliance with WCAG requirements.

These developments just so happened to occur in tandem with a surge in individuals suing (or threatening to sue) businesses, nonprofits, special districts, and even city and county agencies, because their site didn’t quite comply with state or federal disability access standards. Even though there is some gray area about whether websites that are not associated with a physical location are also subject under the law, lawsuits keep coming and case law keeps building. But since even baseless lawsuits require significant resources to confront and defend, most businesses end up opting to pay out-of-court settlements. These settlement costs aren’t cheap, and neither are your lawyers.

What are the ADA Standards to Which Your Site Must Comply?

Here’s the catch. There are currently no formal regulations that define exactly what WCAG compliance means. In fact, WCAG is more of a blueprint (vs. a legal guideline) for making sure that text, graphics, navigation, tools, functionality, or commerce on a website are all accessible for users with disabilities. However, businesses and organizations are required to maintain websites that offer “reasonable accessibility” to people with disabilities.

So just what does that mean? Just how do you go about doing it? These are valid questions and concerns. As new technology and techniques are created, implemented, and refined, it all adds up to a sort of “moving target” when it comes to compliance.

The ultimate “big picture” goal is to ensure that all sites are always fully accessible to individuals who rely on assistive technologies and other accessibility enhancements to navigate and live their lives—online and off. Among other things, this includes taking steps such as ensuring all media files and maps have an “alt” tag; attaching descriptive “html” tags to all online forms; including a descriptive “anchor text” in all hyperlinks; and embedding “skip navigation” links on all of your site pages. These are just a few of the techy things that need to be done to bring your website in line.The good news is that these improvements help organizations stay in good graces with disabled site visitors—while also steering clear of costly lawsuits and litigation efforts. Figuring out how your business navigates this uncertain terrain can be challenging, though.

We Can Help

Searle Creative ADA compliance work on your website may help you reduce your risk of ending up on the business end of a costly, cumbersome disability lawsuit. When you engage with Searle on a website design project, the scope of work always includes a complete, comprehensive review of your site’s current compliance with WCAG 2.1 Level AA standards.

That’s not where our effort ends, however. We also recommend the best way to bring your site into compliance—and keep it that way, no matter how hard the winds of change may blow. All of our digital design and marketing solutions combine and integrate the following aspects:

  • Best-in-class, state-of-the-art site practices, implemented by our web development team
  • Installation and configuration of assistive technology
  • Ongoing Artificial Intelligence (AI) monitoring to ensure the highest level of compliance

Yes, WCAG standards may change or be added to again, so even if your site is compliant today, there is no guarantee it will be tomorrow. But by making an honest, strong, smart effort to achieve accessibility for online users and consumers with disabilities today, you can stay ahead of the curve and hopefully avoid litigation for years to come. And when your site easier to use for everyone, this can also mean increased sales, higher ranking on search engines, and an enhanced reputation for your brand.

Today is also an ideal time to find out how Searle can help you do all this—for significantly lower costs than defending a lawsuit. We’d welcome the opportunity to help, so please reach out when you’re ready for ADA compliance.

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