The User Experience Blog
Dialogue around issues and ideas that impact user experience

Does your website legally need to be accessible?

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The other day I was asked the question

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“To what level does any website legally need to be made accessible?”

    “The influence of web accessibility on business and industry is more significant when the demands of a client, or potential client, like the US federal government, must be met.” (WebAim.org)

The law that exists today says that if you are the federal government or supply electronic and information technology goods and services to the federal government, then yes, you must comply with Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act (Section 508 Standards). This law requires “Federal agencies to make their electronic and information technology (EIT) accessible to people with disabilities.” (section508.gov)

Even if your website will not be used by the federal government, you still need to be

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familiar with The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the lawsuits that have been brought against companies for being in violation of this act.

Especially since in July 2010, the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on Accessibility of Web Information and Services Provided by Entities Covered by the ADA. The Department “is considering revising the regulations implementing titles II and III of the ADA to establish specific requirements for State and local governments and public accommodations to make their websites accessible to individuals with disabilities. The purpose of the Department’s proposal is to solicit

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public comment on various issues relating to the establishment of any such Web accessibility requirements and to determine the costs and benefits of any requirements that the Department might adopt.

The purpose of the ADA today is to “provide a clear and comprehensive national mandate for the elimination of discrimination against individuals with disabilities” (ada.gov) and “to make sure that people with disabilities can have an equal opportunity to participate in programs, services, and activities.” (WebAim.org). Currently, there are only two sections of the ADA that may apply to websites:

Several companies, including Target, Southwest Airlines, Priceline.com, and Ramada, have had lawsuits brought against them for inaccessible websites because of the ADA. Even though there is not a clear line between the ADA and accessible websites and “the apparent contradictions around different legal cases make it difficult to know how to interpret and apply the rulings,”

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these and other legal precedents should also be taken into consideration when determining whether a website needs to be accessible. (WebAim.org)

It is important to note that the Section 508 standards and the ADA apply to the United States only. If you do business internationally, your website may be subject to the laws of other countries.

In summary, websites and applications must comply with the Section 508 standards if they are to be used by the federal government. That said, the ADA is subject to change in the near future and companies have already been successfully sued for not abiding with the ADA. You should take these things into consideration when planning (or not planning) for accessibility.

For more information see:

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8 Responses to “Does your website legally need to be accessible?”

  1. [...] Does your website legally need to be accessible? The other day I was asked the question “To what level does any website legally need to be made accessible?” [...]

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  5. [...] Does your website legally need to be accessible? (U.S.) [...]

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