The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 ensures people with disabilities have full and equal access to employment, public services, public accommodations and telecommunications. When the ADA was passed the internet as we know it did not yet exist. The law is now catching up with technology and changes are coming which affect public websites and compliance with the ADA.
Who does this affect?
The Justice Department has proposed rules that all government websites, down to the state and local level, must be ADA compliant. As the Act also applies to public accommodations, the Department of Justice is expected to rule in the future that public websites also fall under “public accommodations” and therefore are required to be ADA compliant.
The ADA applies to businesses with fifteen or more employees, yet designing and developing websites that are ADA compliant is good business regardless of company size. Some courts have been ruling in favor of requiring websites to be ADA compliant, as in the cases against Target and Netflix (the Netflix case was the first ADA ruling that applies to internet-only based businesses).
Websites without assistive technology can be as much of a barrier to access as buildings which are not ADA compliant. By creating websites that are accessible to those with disabilities, businesses have the potential to tap into an entirely new customer base and gain new business, while limiting liability. Plus, fairness and equality in and of itself a good thing. Now is the time to get ahead of the game and add ADA compliance to your web design tool belt.
Until the rules for ADA compliance are finalized, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has issued recommendations for website accessibility: http://webaim.org/standards/508/checklist.