You probably never thought that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) may impact your company’s website. As a retailer, you are well aware of the need for wheelchair ramps, accessible parking spaces, and enough room between aisles to allow customers to pass. But how does the ADA apply to a website?
The ADA requires places of “public accommodation” to ensure non-discriminatory accessibility to those individuals with disabilities. Commercial establishments such as restaurants, movie theaters, and retail stores are all considered public accommodations. The ADA was enacted in 1990, just as commercial internet service providers were emerging. Accordingly, the original language of the ADA and its implementing regulations only considered physical places of public accommodation.
As companies continue to expand their online presence, however, concerns have been voiced that the websites do not allow hearing- or sight-impaired individuals easy access to the services provided by retail websites. In 2010, the Department of Justice (DOJ), who oversees ADA compliance, issued the Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking. This Notice formalized the DOJ’s position that a website is within the scope of the ADA so long as it provides goods and services and falls within one of the twelve categories of public accommodations listed in the ADA, such as a retail store.
There have also been several recent lawsuits over website accessibility. Notably, in April of 2015, edX Inc., a provider of online classes, reached a settlement with DOJ over the alleged inaccessibility of its website. The agreement required edX to ensure that its website had “accurate captioning for the deaf, oral navigation signals for the blind, and programming changes so those with dexterity disabilities can navigate content without struggling with a hand-operated mouse.” by The National Association for the Deaf brought a similar suit against Harvard and MIT regarding their online courses.
DOJ is proposing to expand formally the definition of “places of public accommodation” to include a company’s website. DOJ is asking for input on what level of conformity should be required for websites that are places of public accommodation with the aim of publishing a proposed rule by April 2016.
If your store would like to provide DOJ input, please contact the World Floor Covering Association at 561.278.0035 or via firstname.lastname@example.org. You may also send information to lobbyist, Brandon Farris at email@example.com.