Website ADA Compliance: What We Know So Far
In recent months, there has been a lot of talk about the need to make credit union websites compliant with Americans with Disabilities laws but, unfortunately, there hasn’t been a lot of clarity on the matter.
Here’s what we know so far.
Credit Unions are, by law, considered Title III facilities. Title III states:
“All persons shall be entitled to the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages and accommodations of any place of public accommodation”
That means branches are open to and serve the public and therefore must meet certain requirements for accessibility. While this regulation has historically been applied to the physical building, it has been expanded to include things like ATMs and is now stretching to include the credit union’s online presence – your website.
Here’s where a lot of the confusion comes into play. The Department of Justice, which oversees ADA compliance, is supposed to be amending the rules for Title II and Title III facilities but there have been many delays. Title II, which covers state and local government, is still waiting for their final decision. Title III is expected to wait even longer. That means that as of this writing, there are no official regulations yet. It is important to note that just because the regulations aren’t officially in place, you are not immune from letters of compliance demand from organizations working on behalf of the differently abled. Some of these groups have begun sending letters with the intent of reaching a mutually agreed upon date by which the site will meet compliance standards. Remember, since your website is available to the public, letters of demand or complaint do not have to come from people who are current members of your credit union. Any person can claim that they access to your site and, as such, it needs to be accessible to them and their needs.
You may have heard talk of WCAG 2.0 standards. These are the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines for web developers. The guidelines include four areas of compliance which sites will be expected to meet: Perceivable, Operable, Understandable and Robust. These four areas seek to make your website content available to individuals with hearing, vision, cognitive or physical impairments. Click here for a list of specific criteria. These requirements don’t mean you have to have a static, black and white website that reads aloud the text for every user. Instead, they mean that the code of your website will need to be written to work with the personal settings of users who may have specific needs. That includes alt tags on images for visually impaired users who have reading devices for sites. It also includes the ability to turn off automatic navigations or page time outs for the cognitively impaired.
As mentioned earlier, the requirements are not yet set in stone but there are some things to consider going forward.
You may have heard the NON-WCAG compliant option called “The Domino’s Exception.” It stems from a website in which a blind plaintiff sued Domino’s, claiming their website did not meet ADA Title III regulations preventing the visually impaired user from using the site to order a pizza. Domino’s claimed that the website was not covered under the ADA and they offered a telephone option for users who were not able to use the website. It’s important to note that while the case was thrown out by a judge who ruled that the pizza chain met its obligation by offering a phone option, that judge did reject the argument that websites are not covered by the ADA. Instead, the judge ruled that the law was unclear and that Domino’s had not been given fair notice of what their exact obligation was in regard to websites and ADA compliance. This is an important distinction. The judge did not say websites were exempt, instead ruling that there simply isn’t enough information at this time to hold the company responsible. This means that down the road, when regulations are clarified, websites will almost certainly be held to ADA standards. It may also mean that having a non-compliant website may be allowed as long as an alternative method such as phone or chat is available.
While the regulations remain unclear, that doesn’t mean you are “safe” to continue using a non-compliant website. Organizations and individuals are still able to submit a letter of demand seeking you make your site more accessible. Often, simply finding a mutually-agreed upon date by which to make the site compliant is sufficient but as the official regulations are released, that may change. At the very least, the time allotted to make the changes will almost certainly get shorter. While there are still questions about the exact time frame for the regulations to be released, there is no doubt that this is coming and could potentially have a big impact on the way our websites are developed.