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ADA Compliant Design

The World Wide Web Consortium's Web Accessibility Initiative sets guidelines that are generally considered the standard for ensuring compliance with the equal-access provisions of Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). These guidelines help developers, designers, and business owners to ensure that a person with a disability has the same viewing experience as a person without one.

The Basics

If you don't have a disability or know someone who has a disability, you're probably not familiar with ADA. You might be confused about what the law requires and how to meet those requirements, and there is a lot of conflicting information about this online which only adds to the confusion. To help separate the fact from fiction, I've compiled the key points of web access and ADA compliance below.

Does my website need to be accessible?

Legally speaking, if your business falls under Title III of ADA then you are required to have an ADA-compliant website. This includes:

Private clubs do not have to comply with ADA regulations, but if they offer space for public use (such as renting out event space or a function hall) any information or sections of the website relating to that service or space must meet ADA requirements.

Even if you are not legally obligated to make your website accessible, doing so can be beneficial to your business in a number of ways. Most notably, having an accessible website opens your business to a much larger base of consumers. 19% of the Americans have at least one disability1; that's nearly 60 million possible customers who otherwise might not be able to access your website and your business.

Is my website accessible?

W3's list of compliance guidelines is extensive and can be overwhelming for anyone who doesn't have experience with web design and/or development. The list below covers some of the most common barriers to web accessibility:

What happens if I don't make my website ADA Compliant?2

If your business falls under Title III of ADA and you fail to meet the accessibility requirements, a user can file a complaint against you for ADA violations. Depending on how/where the complaint is filed, a number of different outcomes are possible.

State Commission for Disabilities

Each state has an office/organization tasked with overseeing issues related to ADA; if one of your customers files a complaint with this organization, they will attempt to mediate a resolution. This process is totally voluntary. You can choose not to participate, but refusal doesn't mean that your customer cannot pursue further legal action against you.

Suits filed as a private entity

Accessibility violations to ADA are considered acts of discrimination for which your customer can file suit as a private/independent entity. If the courts find that you are neglecting you responsibilities under ADA, they will likely issue a court order directing you to achieve compliance. Your customer's attorney may also file suit in civil court, in which case you could be ordered to pay damages to the customer as well. In either situation you would likely also be required to pay court costs if you lose, so this can become quite costly.

The US Department of Justice (DOJ)

The DOJ usually intervenes when a person files a complaint and there is a pattern of continued non-compliance. Should they find that you are indeed violating ADA, you will be forced to make the necessary changes to reach compliance. The DOJ can also seek penalties of up to $75,000 for a first offense and up to $150,000 for subsequent violations.3

Universal Design

Too many websites address accessibility by cobbling a number of stopgap measures onto an existing site. Is color contrast an issue? Let's add a black-and-white text-only version to the site. The layout won't scale properly? Add a large-print version. After adding multiple language versions as well you suddenly find that your website has a half-dozen duplicates of itself. For website users, this becomes the equivalent of going to a restaurant and finding out they can only get their wheelchair inside by going through the kitchen, all because the owner couldn't be bothered to make some modifications to the entrance. It's frustrating for them and inefficient for you.

Instead, best practice in web design encourages us to incorporate access concerns like color contrast, hierarchy, and image use into one site version for users with and without disabilities alike; this simpler, universal design and structure is more user-friendly and shows people with disabilities that you value them as customers or participants. From a business perspective universal web design also saves your design budget by reducing the redundancies of multiple duplicate page versions.

ADA-Compliancy Web Services

I offer a variety of services to help bring your website into compliance with ADA accessibility standards. For more information about our pre-packaged and customizable services, click here.

  1. "Nearly 1 in 5 People Have a Disability in the U.S., Census Bureau Reports." July 25, 2012.

  2. Allyson DuPont Designs does not offer legal services or advice. All information about ADA regulations, violations, and penalties are purely informational. Contact an attorney for legal advice regarding ADA and it's implications in your business.

  3. according to the most recent Civil Monetary Penalties Inflation Adjustment on 3.28.2014