5 things you need to know about ADA Title III
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a federal law enacted in 1990 that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities and aims to ensure equal access and opportunities.
Title III of the ADA prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in places of public accommodation and websites can be considered places of public accommodation under this regulation.
ADA Title III applies to all businesses and organizations that offer goods and services to the public.
Although the DOJ (Department of Justice) has not adopted any official legal standard for the ADA, it refers to the WCAG 2.0 as a goal for website accessibility, and many rulings use it as a benchmark. WCAG 2.1 is the best measure for federal law compliance, and being WCAG 2.1 Level AA compliant reduces the risk of being sued for accessibility issues.
The trend of ADA lawsuits has been increasing in recent years, particularly regarding website accessibility. The number of website accessibility lawsuits has grown more than five times from 2017 to 2021.
What is ADA Title III?
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a federal civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities. The law was enacted in 1990 and has been amended several times, most recently in 2008.
The purpose of the ADA is to ensure that individuals with disabilities have equal opportunities and access to the same goods and services as individuals without disabilities. The law covers a wide range of areas, including employment, transportation, public accommodations, and telecommunications.
Title III is a section of the ADA that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in places of public accommodation. This includes access to physical facilities, such as restaurants, stores, and hotels, as well as access to communication, such as telephone services and online content.
What are the differences between ADA Title III and Section 508?
ADA Title III and Section 508 are both federal laws that relate to accessibility, but they differ in their scope, application, and specific requirements.
The primary difference between ADA Title III and Section 508 is that ADA Title III applies to all businesses and organizations that offer goods and services to the public, while Section 508 only applies to federal agencies and organizations that receive federal funding. Additionally, ADA Title III focuses on ensuring physical access to places of public accommodation and access to online content, while Section 508 focuses specifically on ensuring access to Electronic and Information Technology (EIT) used by the federal government.
Another key difference between ADA Title III and Section 508 is the level of specificity in their requirements. ADA Title III is enforced by the Department of Justice (DOJ) and does not have specific technical requirements for website accessibility. Section 508, on the other hand, has specific technical requirements for EIT accessibility based on the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 Level AA.
Who is affected by the ADA Title III regulations?
Title III of the ADA prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in places of public accommodation. Public accommodations include a wide range of businesses and organizations. Examples of places of public accommodation covered by ADA Title III include:
- Restaurants, cafes, and bars
- Hotels and other lodging facilities
- Theaters, concert halls, and stadiums
- Retail stores and shopping centers
- Hospitals and other healthcare providers
- Places of education, such as schools and universities
- Places of recreation, such as parks and museums
What are the ADA Title III requirements?
The ADA Title III requirements create an obligation for covered entities to take steps to ensure that individuals with disabilities benefit fully and equally of the business’ goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations. This means that businesses and organizations must make reasonable modifications to their policies, practices, and procedures to accommodate any individuals with disabilities.
One of the key requirements of the ADA Title III is online services’ accessibility. Businesses must ensure that their websites and mobile applications are accessible to individuals with disabilities.
How does ADA Title III apply to websites?
The ADA was enacted in 1990, before the widespread use of the internet. As a result, the law does not explicitly address websites or online businesses. However, courts have interpreted the ADA to apply to websites that are considered places of public accommodation. The Department of Justice (DOJ), which is responsible for enforcing the ADA, has taken the position that websites of places of public accommodation must be accessible to individuals with disabilities.
The DOJ has not issued specific regulations regarding website accessibility. However, in 2010, the DOJ issued an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) seeking public comment on proposed regulations for website accessibility. The DOJ received over 4,000 comments on the ANPRM, but has not issued any regulations to date.
Despite the lack of specific regulations, courts have held that websites can be places of public accommodation under the ADA. In one of the earliest cases, Access Now, Inc. v. Southwest Airlines Co., a blind individual sued Southwest Airlines for failing to provide accessible online services. The court held that the airline's website was a place of public accommodation under the ADA.
Since then, other courts have held that websites of places of public accommodation must be accessible to individuals with disabilities. In the case of National Federation of the Blind v. Target Corp., the court held that the retailer's website was inaccessible to individuals with visual impairments and violated the ADA.
Website accessibility means that individuals with disabilities must be able to access and use the website in the same way as individuals without disabilities. This can include features such as text alternatives for images, captions for videos, and keyboard navigation for individuals who cannot use a mouse. Websites must also be compatible with assistive technology, such as screen readers and Braille displays.
Who is considered a “disabled” individual under ADA regulations?
According to the ADA, a person with a disability is an individual who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, has a record of such an impairment, or is regarded as having such an impairment. Let's break down each component of this definition. To gain a better understanding of who qualifies as a disabled individual under the ADA, we offer the following breakdown of the defintion’s components:
Physical or mental impairment
The first requirement for a person to be considered disabled under the ADA is to have a physical or mental impairment. A physical impairment is defined as any physiological disorder or condition, cosmetic disfigurement, or anatomical loss affecting one or more body systems. Some examples of physical impairments include blindness, deafness, cerebral palsy, cancer, HIV/AIDS, and mobility impairments. A mental impairment is any mental or psychological disorder, such as depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, anxiety disorder, and PTSD.
The second requirement is that the physical or mental impairment must substantially limit one or more major life activities. Major life activities refer to fundamental activities that people typically do daily or regularly, such as seeing, hearing, walking, standing, sitting, breathing, learning, communicating, caring for oneself, and performing manual tasks. The limitation must be significant enough that it affects the individual's ability to perform the activity compared to most people in the general population.
Record of impairment
The third requirement is that the person has a record of impairment, which means that the impairment is in a documented form even if said impairment no longer limits the individual in a significant way.
For example, an individual who had cancer in the past but is now cancer-free may still be considered disabled under the ADA if they experience ongoing health complications or discrimination due to their past diagnosis.
Regarded as impaired
The final requirement is that the individual is regarded as having an impairment, even if they do not have one. This includes cases where an employer or service provider assumes that the person has an impairment, even if they do not, or where they perceive the person's impairment as more severe than it actually is. For instance, an employer may assume that a person with a speech impediment is unable to perform their job duties, even though the impediment does not substantially limit their communication abilities.
How to make your website compliant with ADA?
The ADA does not provide specific guidelines for website accessibility, making compliance challenging. Instead, public accommodations have flexibility in how they meet the general requirements of the ADA for nondiscrimination and effective communication.
Although the DOJ (Department of Justice) has not adopted any official legal standard for the ADA, it frequently references the WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) 2.0 as a goal for website accessibility. Even though this standard is not codified into law, many rulings have set WCAG 2.0 Level AA as the benchmark. Currently, WCAG 2.1 is the best measure of web accessibility for federal law compliance, and being WCAG 2.1 Level AA compliant reduces the likelihood of being sued for lack of accessibility.
What are the costs associated with non-compliance?
The value of fines for a website that does not comply with ADA Title III can vary. The first violation of ADA’s website accessibility requirements can result in fines of up to $75,000, with subsequent violations potentially resulting in fines of up to $150,000, as permitted under federal law. Additionally, states and local governments may impose further fines and may require businesses to adhere to more stringent accessibility standards than those mandated by the ADA.
In addition to legal fees and settlement costs, businesses and organizations found to be in violation of ADA Title III may be required to pay damages to individuals with disabilities who have been affected by the lack of accessibility.
It's also worth noting that the costs associated with non-compliance with ADA Title III website accessibility requirements can extend beyond legal and financial penalties. A business or organization's reputation can also suffer as a result of negative publicity and customer backlash, which can result in lost revenue and reduced profitability.
How can Clym help?
Clym believes in striking a balance between digital compliance and your business needs, which is why we offer businesses the following:
- All-in-one platform: One interface combining Privacy and Accessibility compliance with global regulations, at an affordable price;
- Seamless integration into your website;
- Adaptability to your users’ location and applicable regulation;
- Customizable branding;
- Ready Compliance: Covering 30+ data privacy regulations;
- Six preconfigured accessibility profiles, as well as 25+ display adjustments that allow visitors to customise their individual experience.