Should you be concerned about your website’s ADA accessibility?

Over the last year, we’ve curated multiple articles about companies losing legal battles due to their website’s lack of accessibility under the Amercian with Disabilities Act (ADA). As we advise our clients on ADA accommodations for their physical locations, we’re also concerned about the ADA accessibility of their websites.

What businesses must be accessible?

According to a recent lawsuit involving Dunkin’ Donuts, websites that offer access to services from or products for businesses that fall into the categories listed in the ADA’s “places of public accommodation” should be accessible. 

According to the ADA:

In order to be considered a public accommodation with title III obligations, an entity must be private and it must --

Own;

Lease;

Lease to; or

Operate

a place of public accommodation.

What is a place of public accommodation? A place of public accommodation is a facility whose operations --

Affect commerce; and

Fall within at least one of the following 12 categories:

1) Places of lodging (e.g., inns, hotels, motels) (except for owner-occupied establishments renting fewer than six rooms);

2) Establishments serving food or drink (e.g., restaurants and bars);

3) Places of exhibition or entertainment (e.g., motion picture houses, theaters, concert halls, stadiums);

4) Places of public gathering (e.g., auditoriums, convention centers, lecture halls);

5) Sales or rental establishments (e.g., bakeries, grocery stores, hardware stores, shopping centers);

6) Service establishments (e.g., laundromats, dry-cleaners, banks, barber shops, beauty shops, travel services, shoe repair services, funeral parlors, gas stations, offices of accountants or lawyers, pharmacies, insurance offices, professional offices of health care providers, hospitals);

7) Public transportation terminals, depots, or stations (not including facilities relating to air transportation);

8) Places of public display or collection (e.g., museums, libraries, galleries);

9) Places of recreation (e.g., parks, zoos, amusement parks);

10) Places of education (e.g., nursery schools, elementary, secondary, undergraduate, or postgraduate private schools);

11) Social service center establishments (e.g., day care centers, senior citizen centers, homeless shelters, food banks, adoption agencies); and

12) Places of exercise or recreation (  gymnasiums, health spas, bowling alleys, golf courses).

My company falls into one of these categories, how do I know if my website is compatible?

While the courts have ruled that websites fall within the scope of the ADA, we have no clear guidelines on what compatible means. In other words, it falls back to our favorite saying, “it depends”. 

At the very least, business owners should make a good faith effort to ensure their website meets minimum standards set aside by the ADA on their website. As additional guidelines are formed, we expect them to line up with W3C Web Accessibility Initiative which are the most widely accepted web accessibility requirements around worldwide.

It’s important to work with a website developer who is familiar with the ADA requirements and who can assist you in making your website accessible. Defending a lawsuit because your site did not provide accessibility will ultimately cost more than redesigning your website to provide that accessibility. As always, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.