Nathan Mayfield, Vice President of ResNexus: Elevating industries, one business at a time, through service, innovation and education.
As business owners, we should do all we can to make our businesses accessible to all of our clients. As more businesses move into the digital space and websites are becoming ubiquitous, there is a growing need to ensure not only your physical business but also your website is accessible in order to provide equal access to all and be in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
A Brief History Of The ADA
The Americans with Disabilities Act was originally passed in 1990 as a way to ensure those with disabilities weren’t unfairly treated and had equal access to buildings and services. While the ADA does not specifically address websites, Title III of the ADA (which requires public accommodation for people with disabilities) has been interpreted to cover websites, according to the National Law Review. This lack of official standards can leave businesses susceptible to lawsuits if they’re in violation of Title III of the ADA.
As the vice president of a property management platform, I helped ensure that our website and online booking engine came into compliance to protect our properties from ADA noncompliance lawsuits. I’ve also helped teach our clients about ADA guidelines, and our software has a built-in ADA checker to ensure it’s accessible to everyone.
Through this experience, I’ve also seen a number of small-business owners who don’t know much about ADA compliance or are intimidated by ADA requirements. Although I’m not a legal expert in ADA compliance, I want to share what I’ve learned and offer a few best practices for updating your website and weathering the storm should you face a lawsuit:
1. Follow Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. The World Wide Web Consortium has created a set of guidelines to help ensure web content is accessible to those with disabilities. These guidelines focus on making website content perceivable, operable, understandable and robust.
Put yourself in the shoes of someone with visual, motor or auditory impairments. Are you still able to navigate your website and interact with the content? The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines will help you answer yes to those questions. Note that these guidelines are not law. By following them, I believe you have a better chance of avoiding lawsuits and providing your customers with a better experience, but they don’t offer legal protection.
2. Conduct consistent compliance audits. New content is likely added to your website every week, if not every day. New pages and components need to be checked to ensure easy accessibility. Luckily, there are many tools available online to help you accomplish this.
For example, Google Lighthouse is a developer tool that can check a website for ADA compliance and point out specific areas that need improvement. A 100% accessibility score on Google Lighthouse could be helpful in avoiding accessibility issues. The WAVE Website Accessibility Evaluation Tool is another helpful resource for information because it labels areas of your webpage that need to be updated or changed. UserWay is also a tool you can install on your website to help people with disabilities more easily navigate it.
Even if you aren’t in the habit of adding new content to your website, make sure you run compliance audits frequently. I personally suggest doing this once a month or at least once a quarter. Additionally, look for updates in the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, which are updated in response to changes in technology and accessibility. This is a good way to make sure your website remains accessible.
3. Be proactive, not reactive. Even if you’re not the one responsible for maintaining and updating the company website, make sure that whoever is responsible checks for accessibility by using reputable tools and makes sure new content and updates are accessible for everyone.
It is said that you can learn a lot by walking a mile in another’s shoes. I recommend having your employees and team members install an ADA widget tool onto your website, and then having them use the widget to explore your website. You can challenge them to navigate the website using only the keyboard, which is a scenario often overlooked by those who don’t have physical challenges that prevent the use of a mouse. This exercise is usually very enlightening and shows what improvements should be made to enhance the user experience.
4. Don’t panic. In case of a lawsuit, don’t panic. For many new business owners, a lawsuit can be an emotional and terrifying prospect. I have seen multiple businesses navigate ADA-compliance lawsuits, and here are some things to keep in mind:
• Action often helps reduce the fear. Be proactive, and appreciate the fact that you have been told where your business is not compliant. Then, work to immediately fix it.
• Contact your local county and state to see if there are exceptions provided to your property. If so, list that information on your website. With website accessibility in the hospitality industry, for example, I’ve observed that a common issue is not adequately describing which room or unit is set apart for those with accessibility needs.
• Consult a lawyer who specializes in ADA compliance. Working with lawyers who are experts on ADA compliance can help you find the right solution for your business.
• Check with your insurance. Depending on your policy, your insurance might cover some of the legal expenses your business might have to pay.
In the end, always do what you feel is best for your business. As they say, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Put in a bit more time and energy upfront, and I believe you can help protect your business and ensure it’s accessible to everyone.
The information provided here is not legal advice and does not purport to be a substitute for advice of counsel on any specific matter. For legal advice, you should consult with an attorney concerning your specific situation.
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