That depends on who you ask, but if your website is tied to your business (i.e. not for a personal hobby), the answer is most likely yes.
Over 20 years ago the US Department of Justice stated that the ADA (Americans With Disabilities Act) applied to websites as places of public accommodation. What this meant for the digital world twenty years ago and what it means now couldn’t be further apart.
***DISCLAIMER – We are Not Lawyers, We Are Professional Website Developers And Marketers, The Comments In This Article Represent Our Professional Opinion And Are Not Intended To Be Used As Legal Advice***
An ADA compliant website is a site that adheres to website content accessibility guidelines set forth by the W3C, WCAG 2.1 level AA document. WCAG is a document that covers best practices for website development in order to allow broad accessibility by people with disabilities. This means a website must be semantically correct in the way it is coded, follow best practices for layout and color contrasts, and contain code that allows for screen readers to navigate and access all of the information and features available to those who do not have disabilities.
As of right now there is not a law that SPECIFICALLY states that websites must adhere to a set of standards or regulations, however the Americans with Disabilities ACT (ADA) has been interpreted by the courts to include websites. In 2008 Target settled a class action lawsuit for $6 million dollars due to fact that their website was not accessible by those with disabilities.
There are three titles, Title I compliance, Title II Compliance and Title III Compliance. Title II Compliance relates to public entities; Federal, State and Local Governments. Business owners need to be concerned about Title I and Title III. Title I covers “employers”. A caveat of Title I is that it generally only applies to organizations who employee 15 or more people. So while this precludes many small businesses, there is still Title III which does not provide relief.
Title III compliance focuses on businesses that provide goods or services to the public. Some examples of this include store fronts, restaurants and bars, medical offices including dental and any business that provides a service. It is this catchall that has many website owners in hot water. If you have a brick and mortar location, even if it is just an office where you can meet with clients, the rules are being interpreted by the courts to mean that your website must be ADA compliant.
If you did not specifically hire a web developer and ask for an ADA compliant website there is a 99.9% chance your website is not compliant. Websites that are built with visual editors such as WIX, WEEBLY, Square Space etc. are not compliant and unfortunately the technology does not currently exist to make them compliant.
There are some tools available that will scan your site and run an audit. These tools are in their infancy stage and require advanced web development expertise to interpret and filter the reports. In addition to these tools there is manual testing that needs to be carried out on every page of your website.
Self-hosted WordPress sites have the ability to be ADA compliant. At its core WordPress is capable of ADA compliance, however plugins and themes that are added to WordPress may not be compliant. A great example is the popular DIVI theme. DIVI does not meet content accessibility guidelines. In fact, by their very nature, visual editors do not meet website accessibility guidelines.
You run the risk of being sued, and if you have a physical location you most likely will lose. In 2018 one woman filed 175 lawsuits in Florida alone against small business owners over compliance issues. While the law does not provide for any financial penalties in these cases, the law does require that the website owner to pay attorney’s fees and fix the problems. The attorney’s fees in these cases easily reach the tens of thousands of dollars. The prohibitive cost of defending these lawsuits prompt most business owners to settle privately out of court and fix their websites.
You will need to hire a professional web developer or agency to help you with your website. In many cases your entire website may need to be re-built from the ground up. (Especially if you have a do-it-yourself type website on WIX or WEEBLY, or you used free templates and plugins for WordPress that were not professionally developed with accessibility in mind – which is most of them).
Websites that are ADA compliant check off many, if not most, of the boxes for best practice when it comes to SEO (Search Engine Optimization). In addition to employing best practices you will expand your potential customer base by having digital website content that is more accessible. An ADA compliant website is easier to read and index for search engine robots. All of these things will add up and increase the ROI on your website.
This depends on many factors, but it will cost significantly more than a lot of businesses may think. This is primarily for two reasons; most people who advertise as web developers really are not professional developers, they are web designers who have a limited skill set within visual editors. For effective results you will need to engage a professional developer or agency who charge significantly more for their skill set. Another reason why you can expect to pay more for an ADA compliant website is because of the amount of time it takes to build a website to comply with the standards. The amount of time varies and is dependent on the size and features of the site, but expect at least a 50% increase on the cost of a site with many larger sites easily reaching double the cost.
ADA compliance is here and you should take the necessary steps today to protect your business from potential lawsuits. Just A Web Company, Inc. is positioned to help meet your website’s ADA compliance needs. Give us a call or fill out our contact form for a free consultation.