The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed in 1990, and did not address the Internet. However, the Department of Justice established, most notably through a case involving Target, established that the ADA provisions applied to websites. However, the Department has not been forthcoming with guidance on how websites can be made compliant with the ADA. That is about to change.
The Department requested comment on some possible rules it is working on for website compliance with the ADA. USACM recently submitted comments addressing the topic in general, and some of the specific questions asked by the Department. You can also read the ACM press release on the subject.
The following are the recommendations USACM submitted to the Department of Justice. Our full response is available online.
- Promote Awareness ? The public does not have a full understanding of the Americans with Disabilities Act or how it already applies to the Web. Nor does it understand how improving accessibility of Web sites can often be a relatively inexpensive process. Educational resources aimed at improving awareness of the ADA, how it might apply to particular Web sites, and how Web site developers and operators might improve accessibility can reduce resistance and increase compliance.
- Encourage Tool and Software Development ?The department should encourage tool and software development to make it easier for developers and content providers to design accessible Web page and Web services. Improved tools for testing and auditing Web accessibility might provide clearer feedback and assistance in improving accessibility, thus simplifying the process of bringing sites into compliance.
- Adopt the Section 508 Standards ? The current use of Section 508 standards for government Web sites gives them an edge over the WCAG 2.0 standards. It will be easier for Web developers and builders to work with a uniform standards rather than one set for federal Web sites and another for non-federal sites that must be ADA-compliant.
- Voluntary Certification ? We recommend that the Department establish a voluntary certification program for Web sites to demonstrate to visitors that the site is compliant with accessibility standards. This would complement the awareness promotion we recommend.
- Lead by Example ? Besides ensuring its own compliance with the ADA, federal government leadership in making its own Web sites compliant will help uncover useful tools and best practices that developers and builders can use in non-governmental Web sites.
- Seek Clarity About Compliance ? While the ADA already applies to the Web, there exists no guidance about what must comply, how to comply, and who is responsible for what parts of the compliance process, including auditing. Answering those questions must inform the rulemaking process, and resources must be available to make sure people who have these questions can have them answered once compliance becomes a requirement.
- Encourage Compliance, Not Removal ? Depending on how standards are set, implemented and supported, some Web sites may find it easier to remove content rather than comply with the law. Recognizing that the ADA already has undue burden provisions, the Department should still make sure that people understand the standards and how they can be achieved with reasonable means.