The number of ADA related lawsuits has skyrocketed from 3503 cases in 2020 to 4055 in 2021. It is set to increase even more in 2022. With the number of increasing lawsuits, online accessibility is a big issue for local governments. Unfortunately compliance is not always straightforward.
As a local government clerk or administrator, you know how important it is to comply with state and federal regulations. This blog will walk you through the laws governing accessibility, explain where accessibility standards come from, and give you an extensive ADA compliance website checklist.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
The ADA has brought equal accessibility to millions of Americans. The Act seeks to end discrimination based on disability. Titles II and III of the ADA enumerate the responsibilities of public entities like local governments and public accommodations like retail storefronts. Public entities and store owners must provide “reasonable accommodations” for people with disabilities covered by the law.
Title II of the ADA requires accessibility for all government does not explicitly mention website compliance which has allowed courts in various states to issue their own rulings. The Supreme Court has not formally ruled on website accessibility, therefore states are free to make their own accessibility laws related to websites.
Local governments agencies who offer services through their websites have to comply with federal ADA regulations as well as state laws governing web accessibility.
WCAG is an acronym that stands for Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. It is backed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), the primary international web standards organization and it represents the future direction for web accessibility standards in the United States.
WCAG represents a higher, more explicit level of accessibility than even Section 508. While there is some overlap in the recommended criteria outlined by both, they do offer separate recommendations and requirements.
WCAG 2.0 provides three levels of compliance: A, AA, and AAA. Each level outlines a layer of checkpoints that gets deeper in terms of complexity.
- Level A outlines the basic, bare minimum accessibility requirements that a web page must meet. A Level A site will not meet all the needs of people with disabilities, but it’s considered beneficial to a wide range of visitors.
- Level AA addresses some of the biggest challenges users with disabilities face. A Level AA site will accommodate the needs of most people.
- Level AAA outlines the highest standards of accessibility, which cover more advanced barriers some people with disabilities face. As noted in the WCAG guidelines themselves, it’s not necessary for all web pages to follow these criteria because some elements aren’t possible to implement for all types of content.
ADA Compliance Checklist for Local Governments
Your website must be perceivable by those who have limited vision or hearing. Partial, full, and color blindness require different accommodations, as do hearing and cognitive impairments.
The items on this part of the checklist include accommodations that provide alternatives for non-text content, web design that adapts to the user’s mode of perception, and presentation that is variable to fit the user’s comfort level.
Alternatives to non-text content are:
- Images and other elements have appropriate alternative text
- Images that deliver no meaningful content should have no alternative text
- Complex images have simplified alternatives available
- Animated content has alternatives or text descriptions available
- Embedded multimedia is identified by text
- Frames have appropriate titles
- CAPTCHAs are accessible in audio and visual formats
Alternatives to time-based media (audio and video) are:
- Pre-recorded audio-only media (podcasts, MP3 files) have a descriptive text transcript that includes necessary visual and auditory indicators
- Pre-recorded video-only media have an explanatory text transcript or audio description
- All pre-recorded audio has synced captions
- All pre-recorded video has a descriptive text transcript or audio description
- Live audio has synced captions
Your website must present content that can be read by people and followed by assistive technology:
- Headings, lists, emphasized text, etc., should have correct tags
- Tables have appropriate headers and formats
- Tables have summaries or descriptions where necessary
- Form input elements have text labels
- Form elements appear in logical groups
- Keyboard navigation order is logical
- Instructions should not refer to colour, size, shape, sound, or location
The user should be able to distinguish elements of your webpage from one another:
- Colour should not be the only way to distinguish elements, including hyperlinks
- Text and images of text should have a contrast of 4.5:1 or greater
- The page should function normally with the text resized up to 200%
- There should be user controls for any audio that plays for more than 3 seconds
Different users may require various tools to access your website. For example, physical and other impairments may make it difficult to use a mouse. Furthermore, cognitive impairments may require some users to take more time than others to read or interact with your content. Finally, neurological problems may cause seizures or present difficulty in navigation.
All your website’s functions should be accessible with a keyboard:
- The only exceptions are things a keyboard cannot do, such as drawing freehand
- Navigation requiring more than arrow or tab keys should have instructions
- Users must be able to remove keyboard focus using only the keyboard – no keyboard traps
- Your page should not employ shortcut hotkeys that conflict with browser and screen reader shortcut keys
Users should have enough time to read and interact with your content:
- Users should be able to turn off, extend, or adjust any time limits unless doing so is incompatible with the purpose of the activity
- Users should be able to stop or hide blinking, scrolling, or auto-updating elements
Your website should not have design elements that could cause photosensitive seizures:
- No elements flash more than 3 times per second
- Flashing elements avoid saturated reds
Users should be able to navigate, find what they are looking for, and always know where they are:
- Users must be able to skip blocks of content that appear on multiple pages
- All pages have appropriate titles
- Keyboard navigation must focus on components in the order that preserves the intended meaning of the page
- Link text alone, or link text and context, should help users determine the purpose of the link (unless it is meant to be ambiguous to all users)
- There should be at least 2 ways to access every page on your site (e.g., search bar or table of contents)
- Headings and labels are informative and descriptive
- The keyboard focus indicator should be easily visible
Your website should be understandable by human readers and assistive technology. This requires your website to have proper language tags in the HTML, a predictable structure, and enough support to help users avoid and fix their errors.
Assistive technology should be able to determine what language your text is in:
- Your site has appropriate default language attribution
- Your site has proper language attribution for words not in the default language
Your website should look and operate consistently:
- Focusing on an element with the keyboard should not activate anything automatically
- Keyboard controls do not activate anything unless the user is informed ahead of time
- Navigation tools shot have a consistent format and appearance from page to page
- Elements that appear on multiple pages should have the same appearance
Your website should actively prevent and help to fix user errors:
- Your page identifies and describes input errors automatically
- Your page provides labels and instructions for user inputs
- Your page suggests corrections automatically
- Users can reverse, check, or confirm financial and legal inputs
Technology evolves. Maintaining an ADA-compliant and accessible website is not a one-time project. You should have a website that is fully compatible with assistive technology. Furthermore, your site should be upgradable to meet changing circumstances.
Your website should be compatible with current and future assistive technology:
- There are no HTML/XTML validation errors
All page elements are visible to assistive technology
Local governments non-compliant with ADA and WCAG regulations governing websites are susceptible to lawsuits and steep fines: 75,000 dollars for the first infarction and 150,000 dollars for subsequent infractions.
In addition to fines, municipalities must worry about individual citizens suing them in state and federal court. Serial ADA plaintiffs have increased their activities, some individuals filing thousands of lawsuits against private and public entities. Many of these plaintiffs peruse as many websites as possible, looking to pounce on accessibility violations.
Local governments can be proactive to avoid lawsuits and fines. A leading agency partnered with codemantra to achieve 100% ADA compliance in less than four weeks.
codemantra’s accessibilityInsight™, is designed to assist local governments with their federal government mandated 508 compliance requirements. The AI-powered platform can help reduce the amount of time needed to attain 508 compliance and WCAG AA standards.
The multi-phase document accessibility program involves:
- Assess: Complete compliance assessment and detailed reporting.
- Plan: Prioritization of assets and determination of internal, external, or hybrid remediation approach.
- Document processing: Machine-learning and AI-assisted processing merged with human-assisted review and alt text writing.
- Report: Confirm PDF U/A and WCAG compliance and generate a compliance report.
Local governments must be proactive and become compliant with ADA regulations and state accessibility laws to protect their municipalities from costly lawsuits and fines. They must ensure that people with disabilities are able to access information on their websites in the same way as non-disabled citizens.
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