The U.S. Americans With Disabilities Act is traditionally considered in terms of access to physical locations.
In recent years, however, it has become increasingly clear that the ADA also guarantees access to information and services, including electronic information and services — namely, websites.
A U.S. Supreme Court move in 2019 made that clearer than ever before. The high court declined to hear an appeal of a lower court ruling that the Domino’s Pizza website ran afoul of the ADA, underscoring that the ADA does in fact apply to business websites.
Citing the ADA’s guarantee of "full and equal enjoyment of the goods and services ... of any place of public accommodations,” a blind man’s lawsuit claimed Domino’s did not provide accommodations for him to order pizza online.
The lower court sided with the plaintiff. And when Domino’s appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, the high court declined to hear the case.
SCOTUS didn’t rule or comment on the case and might hear it at another time. But the move for now locks in the lower court’s ruling that the ADA applies "any place of public accommodation” whether it’s online or brick-and-mortar.
The Los Angeles Times called it "a potentially far-reaching move” that "strongly suggests that retailers will be required to make their websites accessible.” Business groups worried about a "tsunami of litigation.”
And it’s a valid concern. The Supreme Court allowing the decision against Domino’s stand is the strongest evidence yet that business websites need to comply with the ADA (and specifically the ADA’s Section 508 regarding providers of electronic information).
Section 508 was created ostensibly for federal agencies, but in practice it has been applied to almost any electronic information and services, as well as their providers. The rule of thumb is that anyone with a website should heed the ADA.
Is your website ADA compliant? It’s more than a yes-or-no question.
Compliance is a spectrum, and court rulings and non-rulings including the most recent one from Supreme Court move have leaned toward broad interpretations that make almost anyone with a website bound by the ADA.
There is no way to know for sure if a website is ADA compliant until it’s brought before a judge. But since the ADA is so broad as well as broadly interpreted, business and technology organizations have developed guidelines to help businesses make compliant websites.
The best known of these are the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) published by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), and the Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT) published by the Information Technology Industry Council (ITIC). Essent has addressed the WCAG and VPAT previously.
Find out where your company's website stands with a free ADA assessment from Essent.
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