ADA Website Accessibility For Nonprofits. Now It’s The Law.
The landmark case of Robles v. Domino’s Pizza, LLC continues to reverberate across the Internet. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal’s ruling on ADA website accessibility now makes into law the requirement that any organization, be it government, business or nonprofit, comply with the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) Title III. ADA Website Accessibility For Nonprofits is now a legal requirement.
ADA Title III regulations requires that websites are made accessible to everyone, including those with disabilities, stating “Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Disability by Public Accommodations and in Commercial Facilities.” In a nutshell, if your website cannot be used as intended by those with problems such as visual or hearing impairments, it will fall short of government compliance regulations and could end up with you being taken to court by disgruntled visitors or shut down by government agencies. This change in landscape has been swift and nonprofit organizations may quickly find themselves caught off guard.
ADA Website Accessibility For Nonprofits. The Snowball Effect.
What makes Robles v. Domino’s Pizza, LLC unique is that it marks the first time that website accessibility was specifically referenced in an anti-discrimination law. The case is certain to snowball the proliferation of lawsuits already happening across the country, and nonprofit organizations should be paying keen attention. To date, the suits have been exclusive to government and business websites, but the new law holds nonprofits to the same standard, and exposure.
In addition to Robles, which is a Federal law, local state and county accessibility regulations are quickly raising the bar to include regional enforcement. As a hypothetical example, a nonprofit in California’s website might be considered a “place of public accommodation” under the category of “social service center”. This is a significant development, as nonprofits increasingly rely on their website and social media as their primary PSA channels and dissemination of public services at local levels. In addition to liability exposure, nonprofits have the moral obligation to abide by their core missions, which typically include inclusivity for all people, many of whom are potential donors.
ADA Website Accessibility For Nonprofits. The Fallout.
Although nonprofits will face unique issues with accessibility, the fallout of Robles will primarily impact all of them in four ways:
1. Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG)
WCAG was developed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), a private group of individuals, corporations and academics, with the aim of establishing industry standards for website content accessibility that meets the needs of both website creators and consumers. WCAG 2.1 was published in 2018. Despite the fact that WCAG is a set of accessibility guidelines created by a private group, in Robles v. Domino’s Pizza, LLC the Ninth Circuit ruled that Domino’s was legally obligated to comply with WCAG. This ruling shot down Domino’s argument that it should not be legally bound to non-governmental guidelines and that it was not given any fair notice by the government that it was obligated to do so.
2. WCAG Compliance Regulation Can Be Extended To Nonprofits
It may cause many of us to take pause after hearing that the government enforced a set of private standards onto a private business. However, the court’s argument was that WCAG had already been widely adopted by both the private industry and Federal agencies. In the absence of Federal law, therefore, WCAG had become the de facto accessibility guidelines of the land. In an ironic and perhaps questionable twist, the Ninth Circuit did not include in the language that non-compliance with WCAG violated the ADA.
3. ADA Compliance Must Be Certified Through Discovery
A stipulation in the the Ninth Circuit’s ruling is that organizations, including nonprofits, must be audited and certified by an independent entity in order to be deemed ADA compliant. This stipulation makes it much more difficult for nonprofits to have website accessibility cases dismissed before the complete discovery. Organizations should therefore consider carefully and proactively the cost of discovery versus the potential cost of a drawn-out legal battle regarding website accessibility.
4. Nonprofits Are Exposed to State Law
As stated previously in this article, local governments have thrown their hats into the ring, making nonprofits accountable to both Federal and state laws. As each state will pass their own website accessibility laws, nonprofits may find themselves exposed to local-level laws even if they are not in violation of the Federal ADA.
How Nonprofits Can Take Action To Ensure ADA Compliance
It is imperative that nonprofits be proactive in ensuring that their website is ADA compliant. Here are our recommendations for steps to take:
- Speak to legal counsel and consider an ADA legal expert to determine how accessibility laws apply to the organization.
- Add an ADA compliance widget as a short-term protection measure.
- Get an Accessibility Audit of your website.
- Train website staff and content contributors on accessibility guidelines.
- Explore options and tools that are available that will ensure that your website maintains accessibility compliance ongoing.
- Consider an annual follow up accessibility audit for peace of mind.
ADA Website Accessibility For Nonprofits. We Can Help.
The issue of website accessibility has been a hot topic over the past few years and in 2020 has reached a tipping point in that your website needs to be ADA complaint for both the sake of your site audience and legal protections. Making your website ADA compliant takes a little bit of effort but will be well worth your time, if anything for the sake of peace of mind. If you are concerned about ADA compliance please contact us today for a complementary assessment.
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