New WCAG Regulations and the Consequences of Failing to Comply

Most people think of wheelchair ramps or handicapped parking spaces when they think of the Americans With Disabilities Act. But new laws are broadening the scope of accessibility to include websites. Your website could look good and be functional with lots of great information. But if a disabled person can’t use it you could receive a letter from lawyers threatening to sue under the ADA.

Federal ADA laws already require that websites related to federal, state, or local governments or those that receive federal funding must be digitally compliant for people with disabilities. The Americans With Disabilities act requires business and stores that are “places of public accommodation” to be physically accessible for people with disabilities through such modifications as wheelchair ramps or handicapped parking spaces. At issue is the definition of a website as “a place of public accommodation.”

The law can interpret private businesses as “places of public accommodation” simply by virtue of the fact that they are accessible to anyone with an internet connection. Courts have interpreted this language to mean that the ADA law applies to all commercial websites. Some courts have interpreted this language to mean that a website must be accessible if it has a connection to a physical location, such as the online arm of a brick-and-mortar retail store.

There’s no consensus on what the law actually means right now. But every indication is that they are going to interpret the ADA to apply to commercial websites. This has online business owners worried. The example of the website Scribd and its “NetFlix for books” program wasn’t accessible to screen readers, which meant that the service was inaccessible to blind readers, is a warning sign for business owners.

Scribd’s argument was that Scribd isn’t a physical place and it’s therefore not regulated by the ADA. the judge refused Scribd’s attempt to have the lawsuit dismissed, and they ended up settling. Scribd was required to modify its titles (Section 4) to be accessible by screen readers. They were also required to modify and maintain its website as accessible (section 5).

We’re urging business owners to take steps to make their website accessible. We’re urging people to take steps no matter what type of business they have, but especially one that is accessible to anyone over the internet, as most ecommerce and service-based websites are. This isn’t about a fear of a lawsuit, although that is what’s on people’s minds. It’s about ensuring that your site meets the legal requirements of accessibility.

A plugin like ADA Plugin is a business’s first step to protecting themselves. A lawsuit that forces you to come into compliance won’t have as much “teeth” if you’re already taking steps to make your website accessible. The ADA Plugin runs on a site’s back-end to detect and warn your of compliance issues. It takes a look at each element on your site and compares it to WCAG 2.1.

If your site has issues, a warning pops up when the scan is run, so that you can see what the issue is, what guidelines it is referring to, and suggestions on how to fix it. IF you resolve the issue, the scan remembers and won’t show that warning next time. The plugin is a great way to ensure that your site is moving toward compliance and keep it compliant once you get there.