The ADA and Your Website

The Americans with Disabilities Act probably applies to your company’s website, not just the front door and size of the bathroom. So, while the ADA may not be the first thing you think about when rebuilding your website….maybe it should be? Read on for more information.

Does the ADA really apply to my business?

Under Title I of the ADA, any business with at least 15 full-time employees that operates for 20 or more weeks every year is required to comply with the law. Under Title III, businesses that fall into the category of “public accommodation,” such as hotels, banks and public transportation, are also required to comply – no matter their size.

So, what’s the takeaway: 1) if your company is small or highly seasonal, you might be able to wiggle out of the requirements; 2) If your company is considered a “public accommodation”, the law applies no matter the size of your organization.

I’m a small business and not a public accommodation…so I’m good, right?

If your company provides any of the following services, it could be considered a “public accommodation” and the ADA will apply regardless of the size of your organization.

  • Inns, hotels, and motels
  • Restaurants and bars
  • Bakeries and grocery stores
  • Hardware stores or any sales/retail outlet
  • Banks
  • Laundromats and dry cleaners
  • Health care providers’ offices
  • Public transportation
  • Recreation venues
  • Schools
  • Social service centers
  • Gyms

(This is not an exhaustive list.)

OK, OK – the ADA applies – but who knew!? The 15 year old kid that built my website didn’t know about the ADA and neither did I… Can I claim ignorance as a defense?

I wish! Unfortunately, ignorance of the law is rarely a defense…and the fines for non-compliance can range between $1,000 and $4,000 per visit (i.e. every time a disabled person visits your non-compliant space, that’s another violation).

Do all courts agree on this? What if I just have a website and no physical location?

No, not all courts agree currently — there is a circuit split. However, the tides are turning towards mandating compliance with the ADA on all websites.

Some courts have stated that there must be a “nexus” between the company’s physical location (and the services offered) and the website in order for the ADA to apply to the website at all (11th Circuit). While others, like the 1st and 7th Circuit (where we are), have stated that a company who only operates a website with no physical location at all is still covered by the ADA.

So..if you’re reading this in Wisconsin, the only way your website won’t have to comply with the ADA is if you can fit into an exemption detailed above.

OK I GIVE UP! What do I have to do to comply?

Wouldn’t it be great if we could get an easy answer on this point, at least?! Unfortunately, the ADA doesn’t even mention the word “website” in the text of law – so looking for guidelines on what to do there, won’t be helpful. That said, the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 is a good place to start.

If you’re looking for a more detailed analysis of the circuit split detailed above – check out the article from the American Bar Association here.

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