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Why Does My Website NEED To Meet ADA Compliance?

Let's take a look at the law and the trends that may affect your business

Sorting It All Out


At first glance it’s pretty confusing.  “Is it law or isn’t it”?  Is it well defined or isn’t it”?  “Do I need to do this even if I don’t do business with the government”?  Let’s take a look and we’ll walk you through it.

Back in 1990, George H.W. Bush enacted the American’s With Disabilities Act.  The law was to make sure that those with disabilities had equal access to “public accomodation”.  This was the law that required things like handicap parking places, wheel chair accessable doorway openings and handicap rest rooms.  Back then the online world was not as we know it now.  As time went on and the internet grew in popularity and necessity, government websites and online necessity were mandated with the Section 508 requirements for the U.S. and EN 301 549 for Europe.  These requirements also applied to all businesses doing business with the government.

As time went on, although always implied, there were never “Official” guidelines for private businesses (not doing business with the government) to address accessibility for websites.  Around 2000 the ADA started to recommend that compliance should follow the WCAG (Web Content Accessability Guidelines).  These are guidelines basically define accessibity for 3 areas of disability being; hearing impairments, sight impairments and motor skill impairments.

Find more on these requirements on our page here.

Fast forward to 2006 and the National Federation for the Blind files suit against Target for their non-accessible website and wins a 2 year court battle and in 2008 is awarded $6 million.

Again fast forward and in 2017 Juan Carlos Gil brings suit against Winn-Dixie and wins.  Mr. Gil is blind and the suit, once again,  is for Winn-Dixie’s non- accessible website.  Mr. Gil was awarded $250,000.  While his court battle took over a year, Mr. Gil filed another 174 lawsuits against other businesses with non-compliant websites.

These legal “Test Cases” have sparked a wave across the country and in 2018 there were more than 2000  lawsuits against businesses for non-compliant websites.  In 2019, by mid year, these suits were up 181%.

So, according to the ADA, who needs to have a website that meets the WCAG (currently WCAG 2.1) guidelines?

Answer:  Businesses that fall under Title I and/or Title III of the ADA which reads:

Title I Compliance

The ADA defines “employer” as any person:

  • Engaged in an industry affecting commerce,
  • Employing 15 or more full-time employees each working day,
  • For at least 20 or more calendar weeks in the year.

This means if your business only has 14 or fewer full-time employees, or is seasonal and only in business less than 20 weeks a year, then you do not have to comply with Title I.

Businesses entirely owned by a federally recognized Native American tribe are also exempt from Title I, as well as any tax-exempt private membership club.

Title III Compliance

As far as Title III is concerned, only businesses considered “a public accommodation” are required to comply. The federal law offers this non-exhaustive list of public accomodations:

  • Inns, hotels, and motels
  • Restaurants and bars
  • Bakeries and grocery stores
  • Hardware stores or any sales/retail outlet
  • Banks
  • Laundromats and dry cleaners
  • Accountants and lawyers’ offices
  • Health care providers’ offices
  • Public transportation
  • Recreation venues
  • Schools
  • Social service centers
  • Gyms

Essentially, any business that regularly serves the public is considered a public accommodation, but private clubs or religious organizations are considered exempt.

Are these Predatory Lawsuits, some think so.  Others feel that we have a responsibility as a well developed society to be inclusionary for all.  We’ll leave that argument to you, but after this detailed explanation, chances are you need to be compliant or risk demand letters and lawsuits.

Here is an excerpt from our friends at Business News Daily‘s blog:

The federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is often associated with physical locations and accommodations certain businesses must make for people with disabilities. These accommodations typically include wheelchair accessibility, access to service animals and the use of Braille for customers who are visually impaired. However, the ADA also extends to the digital realm, requiring businesses to ensure web content is accessible to all users.

The first thing to understand about the ADA is which businesses are required to comply. Under Title I of the ADA, any business with at least 15 full-time employees that operates for 20 or more weeks every year is covered by the law. Under Title III, businesses that fall into the category of “public accommodation,” such as hotels, banks and public transportation, are also required to comply. That means the entirety of the law applies, from physical considerations to digital accommodations.

“We know that the ADA does apply to websites based on cases, such as [Gil v. Winn-Dixie]  said David Engelhardt, a New York City-based small business attorney.

Failing to comply with the ADA means your business is susceptible to lawsuits, and it’s common for attorneys to seek out non-compliant businesses both in the physical and digital space. According to Engelhardt, the costs of an ADA lawsuit add up quickly.

“Other than a business being forced to comply, which is costly, the business will have to pay attorneys’ fees, which can be tens of thousands of dollars,” Engelhardt said. “Depending on the state, the business owner can be looking at a $50,000 bill.”

Beyond regulatory consequences, failure to provide accessibility to users with disabilities means losing out on business, too. If users cannot navigate your website, you might be missing sales opportunities. Further, even if you’re not missing out on sales, ADA compliance makes it easier for search engines to crawl and index your website, pushing it up in the rankings and getting your web content in front of more users.

“If users with disabilities struggle to complete forms and make purchases on your website, you could be losing out on potential customers.”

  • The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires certain businesses to make accommodation for people with disabilities.
  • Web content should be accessible to the blind, deaf, and those who must navigate by voice, screen readers or other assistive technologies.
  • Businesses that fall under Title I, those that operate 20 or more weeks per year with at least 15 full-time employees, or Title III, those that fall under the category of “public accommodation,” are covered by the ADA Compliance requirements.
  • Failure to create an ADA-compliant website could open a business to lawsuits, financial liabilities and damage to your brand reputation.

Thank you to Business News Daily and also a big thanks to UsableNet’s Research Team for the Infographic on this page.

Further Reading


Here are 2 more informational pages on our website:

What Is Compliance?

What Is The Adaptivity Solution?