In recent weeks, a growing number of campgrounds have received letters and phone calls from legal entities raising questions regarding their websites’ compliance with ADA standards. In this case, ADA stands for the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. Signed into law by President George H.W. Bush, the ADA was a natural extension of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, prohibiting discrimination against people with disabilities in all aspects of public life. At its signing, President Bush said, “This act is powerful in its simplicity. It will ensure that people with disabilities are given the basic guarantees for which they have worked so long and so hard: independence, freedom of choice, control of their lives, the opportunity to blend fully and equally into the rich mosaic of the American mainstream.” In 1990, the Internet as we know it today did not even exist, and interpretation of the law today is far from simple.
The ADA is comprised of sections referred to as “titles”. Title I prohibits discrimination in the workplace by any employer with 15 or more full-time employees. Clearly, this applies to the hiring practices of larger campgrounds. Title II prohibits public entities from discriminating against “qualified individuals with disabilities” by excluding them from services and activities. Title III requires that newly constructed or altered public accommodations comply with ADA standards. For campgrounds, considered “public accommodations”, this is why your new restrooms and other remodeled facilities must be universally accessible. Titles II and III have also raised issues regarding accessible swimming pools and accommodations for service animals. Titles IV and V cover telecommunications (closed captioning) and miscellaneous provisions that are of lesser concern for your business.
Title II Is the Basis for the Current Problems
Originally applied to state and local governments, the definition of what constitutes a “public entity” has become far more broadly interpreted. The Internet and websites (which, as you recall, did not exist in 1990) are now being challenged as “places of public accommodation” due to the way in which they are accessed. This interpretation has been encouraged by legal challenges; most notably the Winn-Dixie case in 2017, where a plaintiff in Florida was successful in one of over 175 (as of November 2018) such lawsuits that he has filed against businesses with websites claimed to be partially inaccessible to the blind. His attorneys were awarded over $100,000.00 in damages. In addition to South Florida, popular federal court jurisdictions for the filing of such suits include Western Pennsylvania, California, and New York City, according to Forbes Magazine.
Regulations regarding websites were slated to be finalized in 2018, but those standards were put on hold under the Trump administration. On the surface, that would appear to be a prudent move that provides relief for small businesses. Unfortunately, actual regulations (as ill-advised as they may have been) are replaced by extensive recommendations, and a “Wild West” of lawsuits appears to be on the horizon. The ability of robots to search for vulnerable websites has opened up new opportunities for eager attorneys representing not only the blind but individuals with low vision or cognitive impairments, as well as the deaf, using either computers or mobile devices.
In lieu of regulations, highly confusing recommendations have been put forward by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), the international standards organization that develops protocols and guidelines for the Internet. Its Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) has developed a set of Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), the most recent version being WCAG 2.1, released in June 2018. The guidelines are broken down into three levels: A, AA, and AAA, where “A” is the most basic and “AAA” is the most extreme.
Meeting “AAA” standards would be prohibitively costly and would severely impede the online marketing efforts of most businesses. On the other hand, most websites are already in compliance with the “A” standards. In the event of a legal challenge, it is widely believed that a small business that shows a good faith effort at providing “reasonable accessibilities” on its website would prevail in its defense. This appears to translate into an attempt to meet as many “AA” standards as practical. The people who will face the greatest challenges are do-it-yourself webmasters. On the other hand, no website design company will realistically ensure 100% compliance with the existing standards.
I am not an attorney. Should you receive any communication regarding the ADA compliance of your website, you are advised to contact your attorney for legal guidance.
Presuming that you are simply taking a proactive approach, the following is a list of some of the most important “A” and “AA” standards.
- Create “alt” tags (text alternatives) for all images and media files.
- Identify the site’s language (typically “en-us” to indicate “English” with the “United States” subtag), allowing text readers to more easily identify the language used.
- Forms should be properly tabbed for easy keyboard navigation.
- Offer alternatives and suggestions for input errors on forms.
- Provide a consistent navigation and layout throughout the site.
- Ensure that text may be scaled up to 200% of size without causing horizontal scroll bars to appear or breaking the layout.
- Ensure that text and background colors maintain a high contrast ratio.
- Allow users to pause and stop any moving content.
Many of these standards have been long followed by website designers for a variety of reasons. For example, “alt” tags that are used by text readers are also read by search engine robots, and tabbed forms enhance usability for all users.
If you are interested, the far more extreme “AAA” standards partially include sign language translations for all videos, text alternatives for videos, 100% keyboard access, definitions for unusual words, explanations of words that are difficult to pronounce, text using a basic reading level, and no time limits or interruptions of page content.
There are online tests that will allow you to check your website for compliance red flags. One of these is the WAVE web accessibility evaluation tool. There are other fee-based online service providers that offer tests and remediation. One such site that I found at the top of a Google search had an image with a missing “alt” tag right at the top of its own Home page, a very basic compliance failure. We are wading through some very murky waters. As always, you need to stay informed. With typically narrow profit margins, it is hard to imagine any business that would willingly fail to welcome all potential guests.
This post was written by Peter Pelland