Don’t Ignore the American Disability Act When Designing a Site for Your Business

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jul 16, 2021

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Braille TerminalMost business owners with a physical facility that serves the public are aware of the requirements of Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which states that

No individual shall be discriminated against on the basis of disability in the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations of any place of public accommodation by any person who owns, leases (or leases to), or operates a place of public accommodation.

Many small businesses, especially ones in older buildings, have struggled to comply with the requirements of the ADA, including making access to their buildings and restrooms suitable for the disabled.

What many business owners don’t know is that the ADA also applies to their online presence. Even a business that is 100% online needs to be aware of, and in compliance with, certain requirements of the ADA.

The ADA and the Internet

Most ADA-based lawsuits have been focused on physical facilities, such as retail outlets. However, the view of the courts has been changing. For example, in a 2015 court case, Straw v. American Bar Association, the court ruled that just because the ABA didn’t have a physical place where it sold its products did not mean it was not a “place of public accommodation,” and it was required to follow the requirements of Title III of the ADA.

The ADA requires that businesses provide “effective communications” for people with various disabilities. Communications clearly includes online communications.

There’s a “Catch-22” for business: there are no specific rules providing guidance on what a business needs to do in order to bring its website into compliance with the ADA. The government is considering revising the regulations to specifically cover websites; however, such new regulations are not expected to be in effect until 2018 at the earliest.

Lack of Regulations Is No Excuse

The lack of regulations covering online access doesn’t mean businesses can just ignore the issue until regulations are issued. An online retailer, ColoradoBaggage.com, was recently ordered to pay $4,000 in statutory damages because its website wasn’t accessible to a blind customer. In the case, Davis v. BMI/BND Travelware, the company was also ordered to fix its website or take it down.

Preventing Lawsuits

There are various ways in which websites can be made accessible to vision-impaired people. Many blind people use technology such as screen reader programs that allow them to access websites. The American Foundation for the Blind has a web page that describes how blind or visually impaired people can get access to the internet.

To avoid ADA claims, businesses can design their websites to be compatible with technology such as screen reader programs.

It’s not just online retail that must be accessible: other parts of a website, such as job listings, must also be accessible. The US Department of Labor provides a web tool to help businesses make sure their online recruiting is accessible to people with disabilities.


(Photo Credit: “Braille Terminal/Display” by Karola Riegler is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.)

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