Digital Website Accessibility in IR: Understanding the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in the Online Environment

Important Regulations

As we mentioned in Part 1 of our blog series on Digital Website Accessibility, the legislation you’ll hear most frequently in the United States in relation to digital accessibility is the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This is a civil rights law requiring equal access for people with disabilities. As Q4’s partner, Ian Lowe, eSSENTIAL Accessibility Chief Marketing Officer, mentioned in our joint webinar on May 19, this law predates the digital world. Subsequently, however, the Supreme Court declared that a company can be sued under the ADA. As a result, it’s been applied successfully to digital accessibility situations, and the growing volume of related case law and decisions provides critical guidance regarding the expectations of internet accessibility for public companies. 

Another important piece of legislation in the United States is the Rehabilitation Act. The Rehabilitation Act determines how federal agencies interact with certain vendors. Section 508 demands that federal organizations purchase and use information and computing technology  (ICT) that is digitally accessible. So this requires Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG)  compliance. The federal organizations know that this piece of software or ICT is compliant with the use of a Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT). The VPAT gets filled out by the vendor and describes the way that they are or are not accessible. He points out that VPAT is now being used in the private sector as well, where corporations are increasingly demanding that third parties document their level of accessibility before completing a purchase or a renewal of software in order to prevent lawsuits or demand letters whenever they can.

What if you receive a demand letter? 

Lowe explains that if you receive a demand letter informing you that your digital experience does not meet accessibility standards or is blocking someone from experiencing it, you do not necessarily need to panic. However, you do need to take it seriously and follow the steps below.

  1. Assess the demand letter’s legitimacy with your legal counsel.
  2. Validate the technical claims.
    1. Are the claims true?
    2. Are the claims material to someone using your site and performing the activities they would like to perform?
  3. Strategize, consider and select the appropriate response in partnership with your legal counsel.
  4. Audit your entire digital portfolio.
  5. Communicate your commitment to accessibility publicly.
  6. Adopt a comprehensive digital accessibility policy.

Stay tuned to see a checklist for adopting website accessibility from this webinar.

Click here to watch the full webinar and hear from Q4 and eSSENTIAL Accessibility industry experts.

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