Title III of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) protects the rights of people with disabilities to have access to the market. Recently, the U.S. Supreme Court let stand a Ninth Circuit ruling that the ADA requires companies to make their websites and mobile apps accessible to people with disabilities. That means companies should assume that the ADA covers websites and mobile apps.
That said, the ADA doesn’t contain any language that specifically relates to websites and mobile apps. This is likely because the law was passed in 1990, before most people had access to the internet and long before mobile apps were invented.
In a case against Domino’s Pizza, the Ninth Circuit ruled that the ADA requires businesses to provide effective communication to all potential customers, and that means websites and mobile apps that they can use. The law generally requires that, if a product or service is offered, it must be offered on the same terms to all customers.
The case involved a blind man who could not order a pizza despite having an e-reader installed to read websites aloud. The Domino’s website was incompatible with the reader. Website accessibility applies to many groups besides the blind, such as those with lesser vision problems, the deaf, and people with disabilities that require them to use a keyboard instead of a mouse, for example.
The ADA offers no specific accessibility standard
It’s not just that the ADA doesn’t specifically address website and app accessibility. It’s also the case that the Department of Justice, which enforces Title III of the ADA, has not put any regulations in place to guide companies. In 2010, the agency said it would promulgate such rules, but it backed off of the project in 2017.
There are, however, some standards available. For example, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) published a set of web content accessibility guidelines (WCAG) in 1999 and updated them last year. It would be extremely convenient for the Justice Department to recommend companies follow the WCAG, but so far it has not done so.
In the ADA accessibility case, Domino’s argued that the Justice Department’s lack of action on setting accessibility standards means that companies can’t be expected to know what to comply with. So far, the courts have not agreed with that contention.
Companies may be hesitant to make their websites and apps accessible because doing so adds extra cost. However, disability advocates point out that they could save money by including the accessibility requirement from the beginning instead of trying to bring a noncompliant site or app up to date. And, companies can prioritize the most frequently used parts of their sites and apps.