Two people looking at a series of documents

ADA Compliance: Series Overview

Written by: Timothy Stephen Springer

This is post #2 in the ADA Compliance Series, which aims to outline a structure for validating and justifying a claim of “ADA compliance” for a website or other digital system. (a few notes and disclaimers on that)


In answering the question of what constitutes an ADA compliant system, this series will explore four key areas consistent with our requirements of what makes a good definition of compliance.

  • Laws and regulations. First, we’ll start with an overview of the relevant laws and regulations relating to digital accessibility. These posts will cover the background of the law, specific statutory requirements, and how those requirements are applied in the regulations of record for the law. To keep things simple we’re focusing solely on ADA Title III in this series as it’s the area we see the most questions arising around.
  • Lawsuits. Second, we’ll look at current lawsuits being filed under the ADA and see if we need to refine or modify our definition in light of the actual legal activity in the market.
  • The ADA compliant website. Third, we’ll offer a theory on what an ADA compliant web site is. That includes how we’d reasonably think through applying the ADA to a website and then how we’d test that claim.
  • Tricky parts. Fourth, we’ll cover a grab bag of items that don’t fit anywhere else but can help steer our real-world implementation of things.

At the end of the day, all of this will be strongly informed by the real-world needs of people with disabilities. A successful definition needs to meet both our legal and inclusion objectives. In the right definition, these will be in full harmony.

Laws and Regulations

In exploring the question of what ADA compliance means for a website let’s start off with the law and then move into implementing regulations. This series will be ordered around a few big topics of discussion and questions roughly organized in a linear fashion so you can read through them end to end and get a detailed understanding of the law.

This section of the series will cover the relevant parts of the law and implementing regulations, including:

  • Background – An overview of the background of the ADA
  • Definitions of Interest – Specific definitions in the law that are relevant to Title III of the ADA
  • The General Rule – The highest level rule and requirements under Title III of the ADA.
  • General Prohibitions – What are the general types of behavior that are not allowed under Title III of the ADA? For many of these definitions, you can flip them inside out and say something to the extent of “do the opposite of this” so they’re actually helpful for instructing what organization should proactively do.
  • Specific Prohibitions – The ADA includes a series of specific prohibitions – things that are discrimination – that override the general prohibitions when applicable. As with the general prohibitions, useful in instructing behavior.
  • Regulatory Overview – A brief overview of the implementing regulations.
  • Auxiliary Aids and Services – An overview of what aids and services that are used by covered entities to ensure they can communicate with people with disabilities in an effective fashion.
  • Effective Communication – An overview of the concept of effective communication – the type of communication the auxiliary aid and service in the last part needs test to provide.

Lawsuits

The second section will look at the current crop of ADA lawsuits, what we are seeing, and what that means as a practical matter for informing our ADA compliance strategy. Under that we’ll cover:

  • What do we see in lawsuits? A basic breakdown of what the lawsuits cover and are alleging.
  • What the breakdown of a claim in an ADA lawsuit look like? A deeper dive into the claims in the lawsuits.
  • What policies, practices, and procedures that are commonly being requested via injunctive relief requests? The lawsuits are asking the court to force a change in how the defendant does business – what changes are they asking for?
  • Is a specific level of technical compliance required? Is it WCAG and forget it?
  • What about privacy implications? How does the privacy aspect interact with this?

The ADA Compliant Website

Given all that, what does an ADA compliant website look like? This section of the series will cover:

  • How does the ADA apply to a website? What are the high-level theories on how the ADA applies to digital technology?
  • What’s covered? What’s not? What portions of the website are covered for compliance, what can be left out and how do we prioritize the items that are covered.
  • How do you test full and equal access for a website? Full and equal access sounds pretty nebulous – what’s the methodology for testing that?
  • How do you test for effective communication? If we take the view that the website is an auxiliary aid or service under the ADA how do we ensure it is providing effective communication.
  • The ADA Compliant Website. Wrap it up in a pretty bow – what it all means in practice

The Tricky Parts

The final set of posts will be a grab bag of topics and ideas that don’t neatly fit in other locations. It will cover several interesting questions:

  • Isn’t this just a one time fix? Do we really need to change how we do business?
  • Why does the definition of “compliant” seem to change over time?
  • Do you really need to “remove barriers” on a website?
  • What’s the basic defense strategy?