The focus of your law firm’s website should not solely be an attractive design and optimal content. To offer visitors an equal opportunity to view your content and learn about your people and practice areas, the site must also comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
Enacted in 1990, the ADA requires that businesses provide persons with disabilities barrier-free access to their establishments. That used to mean your traditional brick-and-mortar locations, but that all changed in 2016 when the ADA’s reach expanded to include websites.
ADA Compliance for Websites
The text of the ADA indicates the law applies to “places of public accommodation,” which is now interpreted to comprise websites that serve the public. Therefore, your law firm’s website must provide equal access to individuals with disabilities.
Lawsuits targeting websites that are not ADA compliant have spiked dramatically during the past few years. Most allege that a private company’s website qualifies as a place of public accommodation and any such website that creates barriers to access (such as not providing screen-reading compatibility) denied the plaintiffs the right of equal access. The legal challenges even reached the U.S. Supreme Court. In October 2019, the Court declined to review a decision from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals requiring Domino’s Pizza to make its website compatible with screen-reading software for the visually impaired. Through its refusal to hear the appeal, the Court has given the green light for existing website accessibility lawsuits to proceed – and for new claims to be filed.
Website Content Accessibility Guidelines
How do you know if your law firm’s website needs modification to be ADA compliant? According to the Website Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), here are questions to ask – a “yes” to any requires you comply with ADA regulations:
- Does your business benefit the public?
- Is your organization a local, state, or government agency?
- Is your business a private employer with 15 or more employees?
Most law firms can answer the first question in the affirmative, with many more agreeing with the third question. As such, you should review the WCAG and make any necessary changes.
How to Determine If Your Website Is ADA Compliant
The most current website compliance guidelines are found in Section 2.1 of the WCAG. To be ADA compliant, your website must be:
- Perceivable: Information and user interface components must be presentable to users in ways they can perceive.
- Operable: User interface components and navigation must be operable.
- Understandable: Information and operation of the user interface must be understandable.
- Robust: Content must be robust enough to be interpreted by a wide variety of user agents, including assistive technologies.
Website accessibility evaluation tools are available (some for free) to help determine if your website meets WCAG guidelines. For example, online tools can help ensure your website includes alternative text (“alt text”) for every image. “Alt text” is a word or phrase that describes an image and is especially useful for persons visually impaired because it 1) allows screen reading software to describe images to visually impaired users, and 2) enables search engines to display images based on written descriptions and to display search results more accurately.
More information on websites and ADA compliance is available in the ADA Best Practices Tool Kit. Although the best practices are aimed at state and local governments, private businesses – including law firms – will find them helpful, too.
By testing your website for ADA compliance and making necessary adjustments, not only can you be certain that your site is accessible to everyone, but you can also reduce the likelihood of facing a lawsuit for noncompliance – which would be really embarrassing for a law firm.