Historically, the limitations of enterprise systems, technology platforms, and available accessibility expertise have presented significant obstacles to achieving accessibility compliance. With increasing enforcement and legal action against non-compliance, public organizations and private businesses who have not addressed these issues remain vulnerable to legal action.
In addition to improving access to services, compliance with accessibility requirements alleviates this threat, prior to government enforcement or private litigation. IT and business leaders responsible for the applications and systems that serve employees, candidates, and customers are relieved that accessibility compliance can be achieved quickly and cost effectively – with the systems they already own.
The Legal Landscape for Accessibility Compliance
The last several years have seen a more aggressive approach to enforcement of non-compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Although the ADA has been in place for several decades, many public and private organizations still struggle to meet the requirement that their “public accommodations” be available to those with disabilities – particularly for digital systems and applications. And yes, the ADA applies to commercial businesses in addition to public agencies.
Although individual statistics are not available for digital interfaces, it is known that in fiscal 2015, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), which enforces Title III, received 6,391 accessibility complaints – representing a 40% increase over claims in the prior fiscal year.
So how is ADA to be interpreted with respect to digital interfaces? Title II of the ADA prohibits disability discrimination in services, programs and activities of an organization, while Title III prohibits disability discrimination in the full and equal enjoyment of the same. The previously mentioned WCAG standards are generally accepted as defining the types of public accommodations required on internal or external digital interfaces.
The legal risk to non-compliance in ADA is present in two forms, as organizations may be targeted for enforcement by the U.S. DOJ or face civil litigation. In the last five years, several highly public cases presented legal challenges for large organizations including H&R Block, Peapod, Seaworld, Busch Gardens, and Winn Dixie – and more recently e-commerce platform Blue Apron.
In addition to DOJ enforcement, public agencies and colleges have also been targeted repeatedly as ‘easy targets’ for civil suits as their online services habitually do not meet accessibility standards.
Legal outcomes have been mixed, with some cases rejected and others prosecuted to penalties or settlement in fees and costs, remediation, and ongoing monitoring. H&R Block and Peapod for example agreed to install expensive systems to meet and monitor accessibility compliance. Many more rulings have been sealed. Regardless of ruling, each case presented significant costs to defend and negatively impacted their brands.
Against this backdrop of compliance, user expectations and impatience are rising with respect to providing accessible systems and applications. With the availability of social media channels, internal and external users can easily voice their frustration publicly. This puts more visibility on areas of non-compliance that may be targeted for civil actions or government enforcement.
Where to Start
An excellent resource to familiarize yourself with ADA digital compliance is to start with the web accessibility guidelines under W3C WAI (Web Accessibility Initiative). The ADA has also published a toolkit to assist with education on compliance. Moreover, there are several tools that can be used to analyze websites for against WCAG requirements, including support for assistive tools used with various impairments.
The reality is that most organizations don’t possess the specialized knowledge or resources to achieve compliance, and will rely on a partner to design and implement to accessibility standards. InFlight starts most customer engagements with WCAG compliance as a core project requirement, and guides customers throughout the entire process.
For more information about designing for accessibility, check out how InFlight approaches WCAG standards or give us a call at 1-800-853-7505.