Blind people, those with low vision, and people with other disabilities that affect their ability to read a computer display often use different technologies so they can access the information displayed on a webpage. Two commonly used technologies are screen readers and refreshable Braille displays. As discussed above, a screen reader is a computer program that speaks the text that appears on the computer display, beginning in the top-left corner. A refreshable Braille display is an electronic device that translates text into Braille characters that can be read by touch. These assistive technologies read text. They cannot translate images into speech or Braille, even if words appear in the images. For example, these technologies cannot interpret a photograph of a stop sign, even if the word “stop” appears in the image.
The Trump administration’s DOJ had previously promised to begin using WCAG 2.0 as its formal standard for web accessibility. However, the DOJ recently included this action as part of the department’s “inactive list,” which means that it’s not likely to be adopted in the near future. As a result, a clear standard to judge an organizations’ web accessibility will continue to be interpreted, and the number of ADA website lawsuits is not expected to slow down any time soon.
Recent years have seen an uptick in federal lawsuits filed against businesses and governments, alleging that their website violates the ADA by being insufficiently accessible to people with disabilities. In 2017, there were at least 814 such lawsuits against organizations in a variety of industries, from banks and credit unions to restaurants and e-commerce websites. The defendants include small businesses as well as major corporations such as Nike, Burger King, and the Hershey Company.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) has specifically stated in rulings that websites should be designed so they are accessible to individuals who have vision, hearing, and physical disabilities. There’s a growing body of case law where the DOJ required companies to provide an ADA compliant website and levied hefty penalties when sites failed to measure up.
The Department of Justice provides technical assistance to help State and local governments understand and comply with the ADA. An important source of ADA information is the Department’s ADA Home Page on the World Wide Web. This extensive website provides access to ADA regulations; all Department ADA technical assistance materials, including newly-released publications; proposed changes in the ADA regulations; and access to Freedom of Information Act materials, including technical assistance letters. The website also provides links to other Federal agencies with ADA responsibilities.
In some circumstances, longer and more detailed text will be necessary to convey the same meaningful information that other visitors to the website can see. For example, a map showing the locations of neighborhood branches of a city library needs a tag with much more information in text format. In that instance, where the map conveys the locations of several facilities, add a “longdesc” tag that includes a text equivalent description of each location shown on the map – e.g., “City Center Library, 433 N. Main Street, located on North Main Street between 4th Avenue and 5th Avenue.”
In 2010 the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) released the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design. This update to the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 has consistently been interpreted by U.S. courts to apply to digital content including websites, applications, mobile apps, and PDFs. The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) are technical guidelines referenced when testing for ADA website accessibility. Today, WCAG 2.1 A & AA is considered the minimum standard for ADA website compliance.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and, if the government entities receive Federal funding, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, generally require that State and local governments provide qualified individuals with disabilities equal access to their programs, services, or activities unless doing so would fundamentally alter the nature of their programs, services, or activities or would impose an undue burden. One way to help meet these requirements is to ensure that government websites have accessible features for people with disabilities, using the simple steps described in this document. An agency with an inaccessible website may also meet its legal obligations by providing an alternative accessible way for citizens to use the programs or services, such as a staffed telephone information line. These alternatives, however, are unlikely to provide an equal degree of access in terms of hours of operation and the range of options and programs available. For example, job announcements and application forms, if posted on an accessible website, would be available to people with disabilities 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
The ADA defines a covered disability as a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a history of having such an impairment, or being regarded as having such an impairment. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) was charged with interpreting the 1990 law with regard to discrimination in employment. The EEOC developed regulations limiting an individual's impairment to one that "severely or significantly restricts" a major life activity. The ADAAA directed the EEOC to amend its regulations and replace "severely or significantly" with "substantially limits", a more lenient standard.