ADA Compliance in Law Firm Websites – What Do You Need?

We’ve been increasingly getting questions from law firms about ADA compliance:

Is my website ADA compliant?

What do I need to do to make my law firm website ADA compliant?

What does it mean to be ADA compliant?

This largely stems from news coverage of the rising litigation against businesses with websites that do not appear to comply with the ADA, pursued in an effort to exact settlements.

So, we wrote this article to break everything down – what does ADA compliance require for websites, and in particular, law firm websites?

The Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) is a law that was enacted to protect disabled individuals from discrimination. The ADA has a broad scope. It applies to activities by government agencies, employers, building codes, transportation, and communications.

Title III of the ADA requires that all “places of public accommodation” (i.e. any business open to the public) are accessible to disabled people. Where do websites fit into this? Since 2010, there have been efforts to get Title III to apply to websites, to ensure that they would be accessible to individuals with disabilities. The DOJ put out an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, seeking to have the ADA apply to websites as “places of public accommodation.” Though, in 2018, the DOJ withdrew this notice.

Without definitive guidance on the ADA’s application from the government, there has been a flurry of litigation in the past few years. Thousands of lawsuits have been filed against everyone from big businesses like Domino’s and Playboy to smaller businesses. Many businesses see it as a shakedown, but courts have been mixed on their reticence to dismiss these cases.

ADA Compliance Guidelines for Websites

So, without any government guidance on compliance, what can we turn to for advice on making websites accessible?

The WCAG – Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0 AA) – are guidelines for making websites accessible, published by the World Wide Web Consortium. The guidelines have 4 categories with 12 guidelines: Perceivable; Operable; Understandable; Robust. At the end of this article is a synopsis of each element, though you can find the full text here.

What are the specific requirements for websites though, and specifically law firm websites? Here’s a summary of the summary:

  • Readable text
  • Alt tags / text descriptions / transcripts on any images or non-text content
  • Easy-to-use navigation
  • A structure that enables screen-reader technology to read all elements on a page
  • HTML coding
  • All website functionality accessible with a keyboard

There are a bit more technical aspects, outlined further below, but these are the biggest ones you need to be mindful of.

When your site is built, it’s best to design it with ADA compliance in mind. Though the recent rash of lawsuits can appear to be a nuisance or frivolous, if you face one it will not necessarily get dismissed quickly. Taking preventative steps today to ensure your website is ADA compliant could save you thousands in costs and fees in the future.

At JurisPage, we ensure every website we make is ADA compliant. We do this by ensuring that:

  • All webpage text is readable by a screen-reader and user-assisted technology
  • Sites have HTML and other elements that can be parsed by assistive technologies
  • Images have alt tags
  • Sites are adaptable and content can be presented in a simpler layout without losing information or structure
  • All website functionality can be accessed via a keyboard
  • Any time-based content (e.g. image sliders) can be controlled by the user
  • Sites are fully navigable, readable, and consistent

If you have any questions regarding whether your site is ADA compliant, whether it meets the W3C guidelines, and how to get an ADA compliant website, feel free to reach out.

List of All Website ADA Compliance Guidelines

Here is a summary of the 12 guidelines under the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines:

Perceivable – information and user interface components must be presentable to users in way they can perceive

  • 1.1 Text Alternatives – Any non-text content should have text alternatives (e.g. images should have alt text)
  • 1.2. Time-based Media – Any time-based media has alternatives (e.g. podcasts published on your website have descriptions and/or transcripts)
  • 1.3. Adaptable – Content can be presented in different ways (i.e. simpler layout) without losing information or structure
  • 1.4 Distinguishable – Users can see and hear content, including separating foreground from background (e.g. font is readable, and any text in images is at least 14 pt font with good contrast)

Operable – user interface components and navigation must be operable

  • 2.1. Keyboard – All website functionality is available from a keyboard
  • 2.2. Enough Time – Users have enough time to read and use content (if any content is time-barred, users can pause the screen and continue to read the content)
  • 2.3. Seizures – Content is not designed in a way to cause seizures (webpages do not contain anything that flashes more than three times in any one second)
  • 2.4. Navigable – Users can easily navigate, find content, and know where they are on a website

Understandable – information and the operation of user interface must be understandable

  • 3.1. Readable – all text is readable and understandable
  • 3.2. Predictable – All content on a website is consistent, with consistent navigation items
  • 3.3. Input assistance – Help users avoid and correct mistakes (e.g. If any input error is automatically detected, the error is described to the user in text; labels or instructions are provided when content requires user input)

Robust – content can be interpreted reliably by a wide variety of user agents, including assistive technologies

  • 4.1. Parsing – Websites are compatible with current and future user agents, including assistive technology (e.g. websites work with screen-readers and use standard HTML)

Next Steps for ADA Compliance – What is the Status of the Law?

In 2018, the ADA Education and Reform Act passed in the House, making it harder for disabled individuals to sue businesses for discrimination in an effort to stop frivolous lawsuits. Though, the bill was never enacted into law, as it failed to pass in the Senate.

Moreover, in 2018, the DOJ withdrew the Obama-era Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, which intended to require website compliance with the ADA.

So, as of today (March 2019), there are no laws or rules saying definitively that websites must be ADA compliant, though there is much litigation and mixed case law for both sides.

Andrew Cabasso
About the Author: Andrew Cabasso
Andrew Cabasso is an attorney and co-founder of JurisPage, an online marketing agency for law firms, now part of Uptime Legal. Andrew has given many lectures and CLEs on website design and Internet marketing to legal professionals. He is the author of Search Engine Optimization for Lawyers and The Complete Guide to Attorney PPC. Follow Andrew on LinkedIn, Google+, or Twitter.

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