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The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a comprehensive and complex item of civil rights legislation that was signed into American law on July 26, 1990. The ADA was designed to prohibit discrimination of individuals based on disabilities and to guarantee equal opportunities in society for those living with disabilities. The law was modeled after another comprehensive piece of legislation, the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The ADA guarantees equal opportunities regarding many facets of American life, including employment opportunities and the ability to participate in State and local government programs and services. 

Due to the technological shift that has taken over American life and society in the modern day, the Americans with Disabilities Act now covers the issues of web accessibility. This includes two provisions covering two different types of websites. The first, Title II, applies to state and local government websites. The second, Title III, applies to businesses that are generally open to the public and that fall into one of 12 categories listed in the ADA. Failure to comply with ADA web accessibility guidelines can result in lawsuits and hefty financial penalties. For this reason, it is essential to understand both the importance of ADA guidelines and how you can successfully and fully comply with the guidelines. 

Why Should Websites Be Accessible

Before discussing the specific requirements of the ADA guidelines, it is necessary to understand why websites should be accessible. Technological advances have drastically changed the way American society operates and our overall reliance on the internet. This includes resources such as education, commerce, career, and even recreation. The internet has become an essential component in nearly every facet of American life. For example, many government services and programs require users to perform activities on the internet. Actions such as paying fees, applying for jobs, filing tax returns, and even applying for permits are now conducted entirely online. For these reasons, it is essential that the online platforms where these actions are performed are sufficiently accessible to all users. This is especially true for users with disabilities because navigating the web can be significantly challenging for those living with disabilities. 

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What Are The Requirements For A Website To Be ADA Accessible?

In order to ensure your website is ADA-compliant in relation to web accessibility, you must first understand the requirements of the ADA. However, this can be challenging. According to ADA.org, “The Department of Justice does not have a regulation setting out detailed standards, but the Department’s longstanding interpretation of the general nondiscrimination and effective communication provisions applies to web accessibility.” Because there are no specific standards published in the ADA, it is necessary to use your best judgment when addressing web accessibility. 

The DOJ suggests using existing technical standards to properly address web accessibility and meet ADA requirements. This includes the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) and the Section 508 Standards. In fact, in order to follow ADA accessibility standards, the U.S. federal government uses these technical guidelines. Because there are no specific guidelines presented in the ADA, there is a level of flexibility in regard to compliance. However, following the best technical guidelines and creating websites that are as accessible as possible are the best practices for developers. It is also important to remember there could be legal and financial consequences if compliance with the ADA is not met. 

How ADA Compliance Affects Web Designers

ADA compliance has a profound effect on web designers and developers. This is because the Americans with Disabilities Act must be considered during the creation of all websites and all website content. Due to the potential legal implications of failing to comply, developers and designers must prioritize web accessibility for every design. However, being required to address web accessibility for every design should not be viewed in a negative light. 

Creating accessible designs and content provides an overall better online environment for all users. Not only will ADA compliance offer an accessible space for users with disabilities and impairments, but it will also improve satisfaction for every user. It is also important to note that ADA compliance will not necessarily put a restraint on creative freedom. Instead, it challenges developers to create appealing content for every user. For example, many success criteria for compliance involve adjusting backend site elements rather than simple aesthetic changes. ADA compliance challenges web designers to create better content and provide a more accessible environment. 

How ADA Compliance Affects Small Businesses

Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act applies to every business open to the public, regardless of size. For this reason, small businesses must legally comply with the ADA. The requirement to be ADA compliant obviously has a few effects on small businesses throughout the U.S. It is important to first consider the financial implications of a potential ADA violation for a small business. A business violating ADA compliance can receive fines of up to $55,000 for the first violation and up to $110,000 for every additional violation. This type of financial consequence can be absolutely crippling for any small business or even lead to a business failing. For this reason, small businesses must be especially careful in regard to ADA compliance. When designing a website or when hiring a developer to create a website for your small business, it is essential to ensure ADA compliance is a priority. Failure to comply properly could effectively end a small business due to the financial consequences of a violation. 

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How To Determine If Your Website Is ADA Compliant?

There are several ways to determine if your website is ADA-compliant. One option is to have your website analyzed by a web accessibility evaluation tool. These tools are software programs and services that help determine if online content meets guidelines for accessibility. There are several free options across the web. Also, on W3C’s website, they have provided an extensive list of web accessibility evaluation tools. These are excellent options for website owners who are unfamiliar with the comprehensive accessibility guidelines. 

Another option you can consider is conducting a manual audit of the website yourself. This can be completed by referring to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, which include a comprehensive checklist for accessibility. WCAG is a universal standard for accessibility, so passing through this checklist is a great way to test for compliance. However, this may be challenging and time-consuming if you are unfamiliar with the guidelines.

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