ADA website compliance!
It’s become a popular topic as of late, especially for business owners that have a website.
But, it might surprise you to learn that ADA compliance has been around for quite some time. Its current popularity is a direct result of its evolving legal interpretations for what makes a website accessible.
Below, we’ve plotted the history of Website ADA Compliance and its role in preventing discrimination online.
What is ADA Compliance?
The law that primarily governs accessibility in the U.S. is the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The term ADA compliance, however, refers to the Americans with Disabilities Act Standards for Accessible Design (ADASAD). If you were to comb through the legalese of the ADA, you would find that it doesn’t directly state anything about websites.
But, Title III of the ADA mandates that all public services and all electronic and information technology must be accessible to people with disabilities.
This has been interpreted by U.S. courts to apply to websites, meaning that any businesses, services, and products publicly available online, must be accessible to disabled individuals.
The History of Website ADA Compliance
The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) was signed into law by President George H.W. Bush.
The ADA is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life, including jobs, schools, transportation, and all public and private places that are open to the general public.
In these earlier years of the internet, no one had any idea the long term ramifications this law would have on the modern, digital world.
On July 26, 1991, the DOJ issued its final rules for following Title II and Title III, and while neither addressed website accessibility, Section 508 web accessibility falls under Title II, and e-commerce websites and public mobile applications fall under Title III.
June 17, 1995
The first web accessibility guideline was compiled by Gregg Vanderheiden. Over 38 different web access guidelines were brought together to serve as the starting point for the World Wide Web Consortium’s (W3C) Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 1.0.
The WCAG 1.0 was published and became a W3C recommendation (later superseded by WCAG 2.0)
These 14 guidelines describe the general principle of accessible design and cover the basic theme of web accessibility. They provide multiple suggestions for applying those guidelines to different web page features.
DOJ published Accessibility of State and Local Government Websites to People with Disabilities, to guide state and local governments towards making their websites accessible.
However, for schools with websites and companies that conducted business online, the gap between government and public website accessibility led to confusion.
June 17, 2008
The DOJ issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to adopt the revised 2004 ADA/ABA Guidelines and revise Title II and Title III regulations to address the issues raised in the public’s response to the 2004 Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) while also seeking additional feedback.
However, neither included a proposal for web accessibility provisions, despite the public requesting the DOJ to issue web accessibility regulations under the ADA.
WCAG 1.0 was replaced with WCAG 2.0
The original 14 guidelines were replaced by a new set of 12 Guidelines. These that were organized under 4 overarching design principles – Perceivable, Operable, Understandable and Robust (POUR)
President George W Bush signed the ADA AThe ADA Amendments Act (ADAAA) was signed into law, counteracting the Supreme Court’s narrow interpretation of disability and providing broader protection from discrimination.
July 26, 2010
DOJ published an ANPRM titled Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Disability; Accessibility of Web Information and Services of State and Local Government Entities and Public Accommodations.
This was the first attempt to establish legal requirements for making the goods, and services available through the internet accessible to individuals with disabilities.
NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF THE DEAF V. Netflix
In 2012, Netflix settled a case with the National Association of the Deaf and others, who claimed Netflix’s “Watch Instantly” lacked closed captions. Despite Netflix’s initial resistance citing copyright and legal concerns, a Massachusetts court disagreed. The settlement set a precedent that streaming content falls under the ADA, and the agreement serves as a guide for other streaming platforms.
Department of Justice began developing and updating rules to address web information and services, movie captioning, and video descriptions.
National Association of the Deaf v. Harvard
DOJ released a Statement of Regulatory, promising to provide equal opportunity for disabled internet users. It also discussed the future of titles II and III of the ADA as it further expands to address the internet.
Section 508 standards were finally updated to reflect WCAG 2.0 but the DOJ has been enforcing 2.0 Level AA compliance.
This meant that section 508 standards were finally up to date with modern technology, a huge milestone for those with disabilities.
April 29, 2016
DOJ issued a new SANPR called “Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Disability; Accessibility of Web Information and Services of State and Local Government Entities”. The goal was to create specific technical requirements for making online services and programs accessible to disabled users.
Of the 7,663 ADA Title III lawsuits that were filed in Federal Court, a small number were for websites. Although one law firm projected a 30 percent increase in website accessibility cases for 2018.
January 18, 2018
Section 508 was updated to address changes in technology since the previous 2000 revision. These new standards surpassed previous legislation’s ability to eliminate barriers in new technologies and are more consistent with other accessibility standards across the U.S.
The first case to go to trial over internet accessibility (Gil v. Winn-Dixie)occurred in Florida after a man with visual impairments was unable to navigate the site on his own.
The court held that the Winn-Dixie website was a service of public accommodation and must comply with the ADA’s accessibility requirements. It resulted in Winn-Dixie being required to pay $250,000 to bring its website up to WCAG standards.
June 20, 2018
103 members of the U.S. House of Representatives drafted a letter to then-Attorney General of the Justice Department, Jeff Sessions, regarding the flood of lawsuits and the ease of litigation when there are no legal standards to follow.
WCAG 2.1 became a W3C Recommendation in June 2018, providing updated support for disabled users using mobile devices.
Bishop vs Amazon
As a visually impaired legally bind person, Cedric Bishop could not navigate Amazon’s site even with the help of a screen reader. Amazon was sued for not providing alternative text descriptions for visual elements & images on the site
September 15, 2018
The DOJ responded to the flood of ADA lawsuits and a lack of legal standards in a letter to Congressman Ted Budd. It references the withdrawal of the four rulemaking attempts to address website accessibility and the ADA as the technical requirements for websites proved insufficient.
11,000 lawsuits projected for 2019.
Domino’s was sued for not having an accessible website that supports screen readers.
Guillermo Robles, a man with visual impairments sued Domino’s Pizza Not meeting ADA compliance, as his screen reader was unable to access their website and mobile app.
Conner v. Parkwood
A lawsuit was filed against Parkwood Entertainment for failing to meet ADA compliance on behalf of Marry Connor, a blind woman. Her screen reader could not access the Parkwood Entertainment website making it inaccessible to Conner.
Approximately 11,500 ADA Title III lawsuits were filed, reflecting a continuous rise in such lawsuits. A majority of these cases pertained to website and app accessibility.
Approximately 12,000 ADA Title III lawsuits were filed. The growth in remote work, education, and online shopping due to the pandemic led to increased awareness of website accessibility. Many businesses began to prioritize digital accessibility, anticipating potential legal repercussions if not compliant.
Murphy v. Eyebobs
Anthony Hammond Murphy, sued Eyebobs, LLC, claiming that the accessiBe overlay widget installed on the Eyebobs website failed to provide screen reader users equal access to the website. Murphy won the suit demonstrating that companies betting on overlay technology as a quick-fix solution to web accessibility can still face legal consequences.
June 30, 2021
On June 30, 2021, Colorado Governor Jared Polis signed House Bill 21-1110 into law. The bill takes some protections that are already included in the federal ADA act and encodes them in state law, focusing on government sites. This allows people to bring web accessibility lawsuits to a state court, not just a federal one
DOJ’s Continue Role
Throughout the year, the Department of Justice (DOJ) played an active role in issuing Statements of Interest in multiple ADA website compliance lawsuits, emphasizing the importance of accessibility in all digital spaces.
The trend continued with an increased number of lawsuits related to website ADA compliance. E-commerce, educational institutions, and entertainment platforms remained the primary sectors facing litigation.
DOJ Issues New Guidance On Web Accessibility
Recognizing the growing number of lawsuits and the lack of clear guidelines, the DOJ released new guidance on web accessibility. In this guidance, the DOJ reaffirmed that the ADA does apply to websites, and businesses “open to the public” are required to make their websites accessible to people with disabilities.
National Federation of the Blind vS. Amazon
In 2022, the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) sued Amazon for not providing accessible digital content and devices for blind and visually impaired customers. They claim Amazon violates the ADA by failing to make its Kindle e-books, Fire tablets, Echo smart speakers, and Prime Video streaming service compatible with assistive technologies. The case is unresolved as of 2023.
ADA 33 Years (1990-2023) Americans with Disabilities Act.
By 2023, it was clear that ADA website compliance was not a fleeting trend but a long-term expectation for businesses. The combination of legal repercussions and a broader societal push towards inclusivity has placed ADA compliance at the forefront of the digital business landscape.
Acheson Hotels, LLC v. Deborah Laufer
In March, Deborah Laufer, appealed her dismissed case against Acheson Hotels, asserting that she was indeed affected by not having access to the hotel’s information due to her disability. However, Laufer, a well-known web accessibility “tester”, did not have any intention to visit or use the hotel’s services. While the case is still ongoing, the implication of the ruling could significantly influence the web accessibility landscape. A ruling in favor of testers could potentially lead to an influx of ADA web accessibility lawsuits, potentially placing many businesses at risk.
Both tech giants announced initiatives aimed at boosting the accessibility of their platforms, emphasizing the importance of inclusive design in the digital age.
July 25, 2023
July 25, 2023, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) announced a proposed rule to improve digital access to services that state and local governments offer on websites or mobile applications under Title II of the ADA.
Upcoming WCAG 2.2
The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) will release the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.2 in the fall of this year. This version further enhanced guidelines, focusing on improving user experience for individuals with cognitive and learning disabilities.
Congratulations, you’ve made it to the present! So what about the future of ADA compliance?
As you can see, ADA compliance is constantly evolving, and making sure your website keeps up can be difficult.
If you’re not sure where to get started, you can schedule a free accessibility review by clicking the link below.
After scanning your site, one of our accessibility specialists will connect with you to review your website.
As it plays a growing role online, we want this timeline to be accurate documentation of the evolution of Website ADA compliance. We’ll be continuing to update this timeline as new legal action occurs.
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on July 23, 2020, and has been updated with recent ADA events as of August 2023.