Getting ready for ADA website regulations

As I’ve said more than once, I view the Department of Justice’s much-delayed plans to mandate “accessibility” of websites under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) as perhaps the single most under-reported and alarming regulation that I know of in the federal pipeline. Here is a June rundown from Porter Wright attorneys Bob Morgan and Melissa Barnett of the state of play on the issue. It notes, as has our coverage, that even without getting around to issuing regs, DoJ is busy using ADA settlements to impose its views of accessibility on businesses it sues.

The article affords some glimpses of the staggering hassles that lie ahead for those who sell or promote products or services online, including for many the likely need to hire not just consulting help but full-time web accessibility specialists. Just one excerpt:

…making a website accessible to disabled users centers on design and functionality. The complexity of achieving this objective varies by the “type of content, the size and complexity of the site, and the development tools and environment,” according to the World Wide Web Consortium. But hundreds of design options exist to make a website accessible; WGAC 2.0 [the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines] alone provides 206 options. These include, but are not limited to, providing links to definitions, removing time limits for activities, providing spoken word versions of text, and ensuring keyboard control for all website functions.

One wording in this passage strikes me as a bit peculiar. To say that WGAC “alone provides 206 options” might suggest that achieving legal compliance is a snap — look, there are 206 options to comply, just pick one. But it doesn’t mean that, does it? Just because you’ve arranged to “provide spoken word versions of text” to fend off a lawsuit on behalf of blind users doesn’t mean you can get out of a lawsuit representing persons lacking fine hand motor control for not “ensuring keyboard control for all website functions” (i.e., disabling any mouse-only functions and patching any failures this generates in your current design). And even if you can do both those things along with fifty more, you may still be exposed to a lawsuit if you haven’t gotten around to “removing time limits for activities.”

According to Porter Wright’s Morgan and Barnett the Department of Justice is now expected to release its new rule in April 2016. Do not count on Congress to save the day; its record in the past under both Republican and Democratic leadership has been one of stepping in to expand the scope of the ADA, not rein in its more extreme applications. A better hope is the courts, which, despite some recent erosion, have not overturned some noteworthy precedents in which judges declined to extend ADA regulation wholesale from physical to virtual “space.”


  • Actually keyboard control is for blind users too. 😀 After all, it’s not like we can see where to click. I realize that you believe no regulation is good and thereby any regulation is bad… But somewhere between 1920 and todays filing mills lies a balance that provides persons like me the ability to shop online. Simple is best, that’s what to keep in mind when building an accessible web site. And to me, spoken word text is very redundant since anyone that needs it will be running a screen reader that provides speech already… There are even free options such as nvda. Parts of the federal government try to accomplish this via a regular version and an accessible version once again with the accessible version simplified. If you have spoken instructions insure you also have a text version and make your timers long and easily extended for those with mobility impairments and alt tags for your pictures. Some of it is just obvious good web design… Some of it is counteracting poor web design (fancy web sites earn the developers more money because they take longer to build and support)…
    The law should recognize that reasonable has never meant perfect. Police/prosecutors get a good faith exception, how about one for businesses?

  • For blind users, wouldn’t it suffice to simply include a phone number to do your order by telephone?

  • In that case, why bother with a web site at all? Why not simply provide a number to a call center in india for everyone… In some cases I’m looking a specific product, in others I’m “shopping”, and in yet others finding a similar product but different because of features/price/etc changes my original intent. Besides, I prefer not to have to depend on sighted assistance where there is a reasonable alternative. Besides, should I really take up Mr. Olson’s time typing in my comments when I am perfectly capable of doing it myself? That way I can even take ownership of any typos.

  • Cecil,

    Why isn’t the New York Times required to print copies of the newspaper in braille? Why isn’t every printed catalog required to have oral explanations of the photos? Should every food magazine include scratch and sniff cards for every recipe?

    I think we have gone too far with ADA compliance for Web sites.

  • Will US users be blocked from accessing offshore websites that don’t meet ADA regs?

    Can a website owner simply refuse to offer content unless a browser such as, for ex, Chrome is used that can read the site out loud? Would that suffice?

    Will youtube videos without captioning and voiceover be banned?

    This is all about power tripping and lawsuit cash.

    • Plus rule-makers will be the “go-to” experts on the new regulations that they wrote when they leave government service under the new Trump administration. Just looking out for the long game.

  • It would be pretty funny if pop-up and pop-over ads ended up being banned because they weren’t ADA compliant 😀


    Time-outs are a security feature; it’ll also be funny to see website operators caught in the Catch-22 of being required to provide timeouts to meet legal requirements for security, but being forbidden to include timeouts to meet legal requirements for access! I guess they can just set up a revolving window where they have timeouts until they get sued, then they pay a fine and switch to “no timeouts” until they get sued again, then switch back…


    Colorado Cross-Disability Coalition v. Abercrombie & Fitch would seem to provide an important precedent. I have a feeling that we’ll find it’s acceptable to have a website that looks how you want it, so long as you provide an alternate “ADA version”.