Legal Marketing & Web Design Blog

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Does my law firm’s website have to be ADA compliant? Part I

typing on braille keyboard

Earlier this year, Domino’s Pizza made headlines when the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the fast food chain’s website, used for online ordering and coupon acquisition, must comply with the American with Disabilities Act (ADA).

The pizza giant’s site isn’t the only one to be challenged in recent years. In fact, in 2018, there were 2,258 web accessibility cases filed (a 177 percent increase from the prior year) and many experts expect that this number will continue to increase.

As a business with a website, should your law firm be concerned?

The Americans with Disabilities Act and the Internet

The American with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a comprehensive civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life, including jobs, schools, transportation, and all public and private places that are open to the general public.

Title III of this law mandates that all “places of public accommodation” (all businesses open to the public) are legally required to remove any barriers that would hinder a disabled person’s access to that business’s goods or services. With brick and mortar businesses, this means that accessibility aids like a wheelchair ramp or an elevator must be available, as an alternative to stairs, and permanent rooms, like restrooms, must have signs with braille and tactile characters.

While the law is clear about physical locations, it was passed in 1990 before businesses had websites or virtual storefronts. The Department of Justice, however, has repeatedly stated that the law does indeed apply to the internet and web properties. The courts’ rulings have been less consistent and a lot of uncertainty around what constitutes web accessibility remains.

The Technical Requirements

The Department of Justice (DOJ) has yet to issue any formal requirements for websites to be compliant with the ADA. Previously, the DOJ has referenced the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0, published by the Web Accessibility Initiative of the World Wide Web Consortium, as a standard that organizations should reference in developing accessible web properties.

These guidelines are designed to ensure that all content is accessible and understandable to individuals using assistive technologies. The principles of WCAG 2.0 (and now the newer 2.1 version) mandate that sites, both the backend code and forward-facing content, be:

  • Perceivable
  • Operable
  • Understandable
  • Robust

Looking Beyond the Legal Requirements

While there is some uncertainty when it comes to whether all websites are legally required to be compliant with the ADA, building a website that is accessible to all is just good business practice.

Beyond avoiding a lawsuit, accessible websites offer the following benefits:

  • Increase your target audience
  • Create a better user experience for all visitors
  • Improve your SEO efforts (when implemented correctly)
  • Help you stand out from competitors

In the following weeks, as we continue our accessibility series, we will dive deeper into each one of these principles and share best practices for your law firm’s website.

We are also hosting a free webinar for law firms where we will share some real-life examples and accessibility resources. Join us!