ADA Title III | Digital Accessibility Standards

ADA Title III (Americans with Disability Act)

The Americans with Disabilities Act or ADA is a monumental United States law passed in 1990 that, for U.S. citizens with disabilities, is the equivalent of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which prohibited discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. The ADA similarly prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability, and is a broadly applicable law covering employment, public services offered by state and local governments, public accomodations and services operated by private entities, telecommunications (including internet), transportation, and more. The ADA was amended in 2008 when the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA) was signed into law. This amendment changed the definition of the concept of “disability,” expanding the number of major life activities considered centrally important to everyday life from 9 to 19. It also greatly restricted the types of mitigating measures that could be considered when determining if a disability exists; mitigating measures, which once included medication and broad categories of medical and assistance measures, is now limited to glasses and contact lenses.

Most critical for the purposes of this overview is the ADA’s Title III, the section that requires “nondiscrimination on the basis of disability by public accommodations and and in commercial facilities.” This is the section of the law that applies to websites, digital documents, and computer and mobile applications.

Who has to comply?

All entities that offer publicly accessible accommodations and services or that run commercial facilities. This covers most privately-owned businesses and nonprofit entities that have direct interaction–virtual or physical–with the public.

What happens if I don’t comply? And who enforces it?

If your website, digital documents, or other electronic products and interfaces do not comply with the ADA and are not accessible to people with disabilities, you run the risk of a civil lawsuit resulting in a monetary settlement. If an individual has problems accessing your website or other digital products and services, they could sue you and the question would then be decided by the courts and enforced by the US justice system.

What do I have to do to comply?

There are not yet hard and fast rules on how to comply with the ADA, but ensuring that your products and services are Level AA WCAG 2.1 compliant is a good way to start. WCAG 2.0 (and therefore the newer WCAG 2.1, which has all of the WCAG 2.0 guidelines and adds on a few more) has been repeatedly upheld by US courts as an acceptable and reasonable level of accessibility.

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