Accessibility for individuals with disabilities is nothing new – it’s why you’ll see ramps for raised entrances to buildings and braille on public bathroom signs. This is due to the ruling of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which ensures equal access to individuals who have a condition that affects their ability to perform common daily functions and can include physical, visual, auditory, cognitive, speech, and overall learning disabilities. However, since the internet was not nearly as common in 1990 when the ADA was passed, it has largely become an unenforced area within the law, leaving it to individual companies or providers to determine the accessibility of their site for people with disabilities.
In March 2016 that tide began to change when Guillermo Robles, who is blind, filed a federal lawsuit against Domino’s Pizza after he was unable to use their website to create a customized pizza order. In 2017 the court sided with Domino’s, deciding that there was not enough evidence in Title III of the ADA towards the official regulations as to what constituted an ADA accessible website. The case ended without much fanfare and we might not be talking about it today if the Court of Appeals hadn’t made the decision in January 2019 to overturn the original ruling, allowing the Supreme Court to consider if they want to hear the case this fall.
There has been significant buzz about what really qualifies as an ADA accessible website, which is what brought the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) together. They are “an international community that develops open standards to ensure the long-term growth of the Web.” One of their biggest projects has been to create a set of guidelines or suggested standards to help websites match the ADA.
Who Does it Apply To?
In the broadest sense, these Website Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) apply to any business or organization that deals with the general public. This includes schools, stores, hotels, recreation facilities, restaurants (like Domino’s), and yes, auto dealerships. As a consumer business, dealerships should keep in mind the following guidelines recommended by the W3C as they attempt to align as closely as possible with the ADA. Although there are currently no official federal laws regarding specific aspects of websites, staying ahead of the game will make it easier if and when laws do go into action. Many sources suggest that as cases like Robles’ begin to go through the courts, we could see changes in the enforcement of ADA accessibility for websites.
What Are the Guidelines?
You can view a full breakdown of updated guidelines for the latest version (WCAG 2.0 and 2.01) online, but we’ll cover a few of the main components:
Content That is Easy to Follow and Understand
One key area that the W3C is focusing on has to do with being able to understand the core content of the website. In addition to having menu options and buttons that clearly let the consumer know what the website is about, text sizing and color should be analyzed. Content should not be hidden within the site and it should use consistent language that is easily detected. Videos or content that flash rapidly and could cause a seizure are also red flags.
Compatible with Assistive Software
Many of the other guidelines listed have to do with the actual coding of the website and its compatibility with assistive technology programs. For example, if a visually-impaired user has a program designed to take the content of a website and make it audible, the website should be set up in such a way that does not block or inhibit that program. This is where Domino’s got into hot water – Robles was not able to use his program in order to hear the online ordering options they had listed on their website.
To Make a Short Story Even Shorter
In 2016 a case was filed against Domino’s for not having a website that was accessible for a blind customer, which the customer felt was against the ADA. Although the court originally sided with the pizza company due to the fact that the ADA and the Department of Justice does not specifically mention what does and does not count as an ADA accessible website, the case is being revisited for a potential reversal this fall.
Meanwhile, the W3C has put together an intensive list of suggested guidelines that they feel would ensure websites are ADA accessible. Although as of right now these guidelines are only suggestions – in 2017 the Department of Justice withdrew attempts to have laws enacted towards websites complying with Title II and Title III of the ADA. However, the dramatic increase of interest and the number of recent cases such as Robles’ have led to speculation that guidelines like the ones in the W3C’s WCAG still have a chance to become laws.
Even the W3C admits that is not possible for any website or webpage to be completely accessible for every person due to the complex variations and combinations of disabilities. As research continues to involve more cases and taking a closer look at how disabled individuals interact with website content, we may see more specific success criteria and techniques released. The closer your current website follows these principles and guidelines outlined by the W3C and WCAG, the less work will be required if and when federal laws begin to take effect.
It should be an open and honest conversation with your website provider, third party apps, and anyone involved with creating content for or on your website. The goal is to make your website a place that is welcoming for as many individuals as possible, broadening your market and promoting inclusion. If you want to learn more, sign up for our webinar below!