How We Got Here
Over the last few months there has been a lot of noise in legal circles as people watched the ongoing lawsuit Domino’s V. Robles: Mr. Robles, a blind California resident, noticed that the Dominos website did not work on his mobile device, hindering his ability to order a pizza. This might not seem like a big deal, after all he could call and order, but the ADA laws specifically state that disabled persons must be able to have “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 operates a place of public accommodation.”
This is an interesting sentence and I focus in on one keyword: Public. The ADA law basically, as it is currently being interpreted, defines the Internet as a public space, and therefore any open sites would need to be compliant with the law. This is the same law, by the way, that makes you need a wheelchair ramp or elevators; braille on ATM number pads, and even the talking crosswalk.
Domino’s disagreed, and pursued the case all the way to the Supreme Court, which declined to hear it, leaving us with the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling which determined:
“Domino’s website and app facilitate access to the goods and services of a place of public accommodation – Domino’s physical restaurants. They are two of the primary (and heavily advertised) means of ordering Domino’s products… We agree with the district court in this case… The ADA applies to Domino’s website and app, which connect customers to the goods and services of Domino’s physical restaurants.”
This is huge: The ADA law is known as a strict liability law. This means that there are no excuses or defenses for being in violation. All anyone needs to do is confirm that the violation exists, and the courts will be on their side.
Is There A Magic Solution?
There is not. Unfortunately, there isn’t an accessibility plugin or widget that makes everything right. The reason? The courts tend to reference WCAG 2.1 AA as the standard the Government, and now all, websites need to meet. This is known as a success criterion, and while you do not need 100% compliance with all of them, they are critical to ensuring your site ensures disabled persons “full and equal” access to the site, its content, navigation, and functional elements.
To make things even more confusing, per the Section 508.gov blog:
“Until the DOJ adopts specific technical requirements for web accessibility in a final rule, if you’re subject to the ADA, you have more flexibility in determining how to make your website compliant with the ADA’s general requirements of nondiscrimination and effective communication.”
The Ninth Circuit court, in its ruling, agreed:
“the ADA and its implementing regulations are intended to give public accommodations maximum flexibility in meeting the statute’s requirements”
This suggests that a good faith effort to ensure your site is ADA compliant would go a long way in the eyes of a court that understands that determining whether a site or app is accessible is a moving target.
How Do We Move Forward
We recommend getting started by running or commissioning a web accessibility assessment for your website. This will give you a good sense of where things are and what to prioritize. If you hire Ignition72, we will prepare a report and detailed assessment of all of your current web sites.
Specific areas of focus include:
Images: If your site has a lot of images, make sure they all have alt tags that adequately describe what the image is. Make sure there is never any text in images (it is unreadable by screen readers) and also that no core site functionality is reliant on seen images to function properly.
Content: A website can be accessible and yet filled with inaccessible content. Videos, for example, need to be closed captioned (to a very low margin of error, that most automatic captioning services fail to meet). This even applies to live videos. Ideally, to meet the needs of all users there should also be a transcript of the video/podcast/webinar. Files like PDF’s need to be properly set up. When a new page is created, it must maintain the standard consistently, always.
Structure: Many sight impaired persons using the web utilize a screen reader, which literally reads out the web page to the user, allowing them to consume and navigate the content without sight. This requires the ability to jump around the page structure, skipping the navigation for example, to get to the main content further down the page. For this to work, the site must follow proper hierarchical structures, using all H and P tags, and other details. In other words: The site should be fully functional for users with alternative input devices, the mouse can’t be the only method of interaction. Think about that for a second.
Legibility: Another common pitfall is legibility. Even if a user is not significantly impaired, it is not uncommon for someone to have vision challenges. The legibility of the site’s content is critical to its easy consumption, and this means the copy is the right size (and easily adjustable), weight, and has proper contrast properties to be legible.
The total compliance audit can be a substantial undertaking as it requires an audit of the entire site to ensure that there are no exceptions or missed issues. Things like the page names, titles and descriptions need to be unique and easy to understand. Link anchor text, for example, should be descriptive, never “Click here”. This is why Ignition72 offers two options:
- Mini – Audit: A two-page assessment of the high-level accessibility of the site, with prioritization of what we would address and recommend to get into compliance.
- Comprehensive Audit: This is a full report on the site and is priced based on the site size and complexity. It starts with a full site map, and then determines, for each page, what level of compliance the site meets.
Ignition72 has extensive experience working with the Federal Government, including the GSA and 18F, on projects that required full accessibility (as required for government websites). We helped Gallaudet University plan and build their latest site, and have provided accessibility services to state, local and municipal clients around the country.
Get in touch, we would love to see how we can help you make your sites more accessible, for everybody… equally.