The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed into law in 1990 to safeguard the rights of persons with disabilities against discrimination. When it was being signed, the internet as we know it today was not yet in existence. The prevalence of computer use was not on the minds of lawmakers when they were creating the provisions of this civil rights law.
Three decades after President Bush signed the ADA, we use the internet in almost all aspects of our lives. All kinds of businesses large and small have competed to make their online presence known on social media over the past few years. And as we painstakingly go through the COVID-19 pandemic, most of our offline life has been transferred to this safer, virus-free internet setting. The debate for whether the ADA covers online-only businesses seems to have come to a head.
In 2018, there was an astounding 177% increase in website accessibility lawsuits filed compared to the previous year. Although there wasn’t a marked difference in 2019, the figures should still be expected to rise as more businesses strive to reach the online market due to the ongoing pandemic.
The basis for arguments against coverage of online-only businesses is the heading for Title III of the ADA: Public Accommodations and Commercial Facilities. There are 12 categories for public accommodations. These cover restaurants, movie theaters, supermarkets, shopping malls, hospitals, libraries, and other establishments that the general public should be free to frequent. All are facilities in the real world that occupy physical space.
Since there was no way that lawmakers back in 1990 could have anticipated the dominance of the internet, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) has needed to make a stand on the issue. In 2003, they released their position specifically obliging website administrators to meet the ADA’s legal requirements by making alternatives available for persons with disabilities. For those with hearing disabilities, this meant having subtitles for videos. And for those with seeing disabilities, this required having auditory components for text-heavy pages.
If, somehow, you already have been operating a website without experiencing any accessibility complaints, you should take the responsibility to make sure that your website is ADA compliant. Litigation for ADA violations can get very costly. And if the numbers from California are any indication, they are only likely to get more common. Testing for ADA compliance can be done by looking up an ADA website checker. Even now, you can see for yourself if there are any areas in your website that might have grounds for ADA violations you haven’t considered before.
It is important to recognize that the internet provides an essential way for people to connect with goods and services in this day and age. And that means that it should be accessible for everyone regardless of the presence of a disability. It is safer to expect that someone with a disability will come across your website than perpetually closing the door on this possibility. At the end of the day, you reap only the benefits of providing equal opportunities to everyone.
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