Recently the number of ADA website lawsuits filed in Federal court has jumped dramatically. Over 2,000 were filed in 2018, which is an increase from 800 in 2017. In 2019 the numbers appear to be rising too. Is your law firm at risk?
What is ADA Compliance?
The ADA (American with Disabilities Act) was signed into law in 1990. For the longest time, it did not apply to websites, only to public places. But now, as the internet is more involved in our lives than ever, websites need to be compliant.
How does this affect your Law Firm Website?
If you have a website that interacts with US residents, then you need to comply, which means that nearly every law firm in America needs to be in compliance. You can read more about our ADA Website Compliance on this page.
What are the Benefits of ADA Compliance for your Website?
Overall, ADA compliance helps with:
1. Increasing your Audience
2. Keeps your Liability Free
3. Helps your SEO efforts
4. Creates a more usable website
5. Gives you goodwill
What does an ADA Audit Involve?
The easiest thing is that you need to be WCAG 2.0 compliant for Level A and Level AA standards. Check out a big checklist for Level A compliance and Level AA.
In short, all images must have alt tags. These are alternate text descriptions that can be read by screen readers when they scan over a photo. It describes what the photo is about, which is the bare minimum.
However, decorative images don’t add information to the content of a page. For example, the information provided by the image might already be given using adjacent text, or the image might be included to make the website more visually attractive. In these cases, a null (empty) alt text should be provided (alt=””) so that they can be ignored by assistive technologies, such as screen readers.
It’s important to keep in mind that you also need captions for videos. You should transcribe audio content. Your headings should be in logical order (H1, H2 and H3). Page titles should be logical, so no keyword stuffing. You need to declare your language. You should only have “strong” and “em” tags, instead of “b” and “i” tags. You should not have empty links, empty headings and other empty tags. You should also not auto-play music or video. You should not rely on color for presentation.
Functionality wise, if there are time limits, you need to notify the user. You should not use auto-scroll, have strobe effects, and you should have a skip navigation function too. You should clearly indicate forms and not have validation errors either.
Level AA compliance adds on captions for live video and audio. It also sets a higher bar for contrast ratios between text and backgrounds. The text should be able to be resized, and you should use text where possible, instead of images. There are other requirements too that you should check out here.
What are Alt Tags?
Alt tags, or “alternative text,” provide a means of describing an image to a screen reader-assisted user. Rather than seeing the image, the alt text is read to them. Any image element that conveys important information to the user and is not redundant with nearby text needs alt text.
Decorative image elements used only to enhance visuals and not conveying relevant content do not need alt tags. On decorative elements, a null alt tag of alt=”” can be used. In this way, the screen reading software will skip over the image.
Who Benefits from ADA Compliance
The process of making a website ADA compliant involves general clean-up that improves HTML structure, content hierarchy, color contrast and usability.
Everyone. Seriously, it benefits everyone. Obviously, those who need screen readers benefit the most as they can actually view your site now. But it also helps your main users by having a website that performs better, is more usable, can improve in search and is fully website compliant.
What are other Common Issues with Compliance?
The most common violations are:
- Alt Tags
- Poor Keyboard Navigation
- Form Input Labels / Requirements / Validation
- Headings Not in Logical Order
- Poor Color Contrast
- Redundant Links that are to the same page too many times or back to back
- Text resizing (zoom) disrupting page layout
- Not providing captions for Audio and Video
Does ADA Compliance help SEO?
Yes, it actually can help in an indirect way. More friendly and usable websites have lower bounce rates. Google and other search engines love compliant websites. So by complying with WCAG 2.0 requirements that also help ADA, you are also helping your SEO.
Is it a law that businesses have compliant websites?
Yes and no.
For government websites, it is mandatory. Under Section 508 (29 U.S.C. 794), agencies must give disabled employees and members of the public access to information that is comparable to the access available to others.
For public websites of businesses, it is technically not required by a specific law at this time. The law does not explicitly mention websites. Of course, this was because it was written 30 years ago in 1990 before sites existed.
There are now numerous lawsuits being filed against companies for failing to make their website ADA compliant. They are relying on the public accommodation requirement of the act to file the suit.
In short, you run a risk of getting hit with a lawsuit, by not making your website compliant.
Is it something that Florida Bar or any state Bar cares about?
Officially most bar websites do not have much information about ADA compliance for their members. Some have published articles on the topics, but some bar associations are not even compliant themselves!
The Florida Bar has a nice compliance checklist for real-world ADA compliance. But it does not seem to have a checklist for websites, yet. There have been some articles written by members though on ADA compliance for websites.
What about Navigation? How does the Functionality Change for Menus?
Navigation is one of the big keys to ADA compliance. For a screen reader, this makes a world of difference. They can easily find the navigation, skip buttons and get to the page they need. For a non-screen reader, it changes nothing. You can simply browse the website as you would normally.
What are your Next Steps?
I recommend that you check out your site using the WAVE tool at a minimum. It is free to run. It is pretty easy to understand. So check it out immediately.
If you hit any errors, then you need to get them corrected ASAP. If you hit some Alerts, then you may want to check those out too, but they may just be a needed element.
If you have any issues, give us a ring. We can help.
Resources & Cool Stats
Data from ADA Lawsuits come from:
- SeyFarth & Shaw – Number Of Federal Website Accessibility Lawsuits Nearly Triple, Exceeding 2250 In 2018
- LA Times – Lawsuits targeting business websites over ADA violations are on the rise
- Law Office of Lainey Feingold – 2019 CSUNATC Digital Accessibility Legal Update
- LegalTech News – ADA Lawsuits are on the Rise