I’ve heard this question from many small businesses lately, and I often wonder why they ask, because the law is so well defined… However, there exists a common misconception that if you have fewer than 15 employees, or are a certain type of organization, you are exempt from complying with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The truth is that this is a common misconception about the requirements of the ADA. Regardless of your type of organization or scale, your digital properties must be compliant with regards to accessibility.
Where does this confusion come from?
Well, it comes from people publishing opinions online without doing the proper research, for one! But, it really comes from a misunderstanding of a provision of the law.
What Does the Law Say?
To understand better, let’s look at some specific portions of the ADA. First, Title I:
Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 prohibits private employers, State and local governments, employment agencies and labor unions from discriminating against qualified individuals with disabilities in job application procedures, hiring, firing, advancement, compensation, job training, and other terms, conditions, and privileges of employment. The ADA covers employers with 15 or more employees, including State and local governments. It also applies to employment agencies and to labor organizations.
This provision is basically saying that all employers, who have more than 15 employees, are barred from discriminating in their hiring practices on account of an applicant’s disability.
Now, Title II:
Title II applies to State and local government entities, and, in subtitle A, protects qualified individuals with disabilities from discrimination on the basis of disability in services, programs, and activities provided by State and local government entities.
This provision bars discrimination of those with disabilities in relation to the reception of services from state and local entities.
And finally, Title III:
Title III prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in the activities of places of public accommodations (businesses that are generally open to the public and that fall into one of 12 categories listed in the ADA, such as restaurants, movie theaters, schools, day care facilities, recreation facilities, and doctors’ offices) and requires newly constructed or altered places of public accommodation—as well as commercial facilities (privately owned, nonresidential facilities such as factories, warehouses, or office buildings)—to comply with the ADA Standards.
This is an important provision, basically stating that any place of public usage is required to have an accessible, equitable experience for all users of the service or facility.
So how does any of this apply to websites and mobile applications? Simply put, courts have determined that digital properties are covered by Title III as places of public accommodation.
And what about the 15 employee limit? The only mention of this is in the first provision, where it is basically indicating that a company with less than 15 employees is exempt from making employment decisions based on an employees disability.
A Practical Example
Let’s put this all together by taking a look at an example in real life. Your locally-owned coffee shop employs 14 people. This means that in employing their workforce they can consider disability as a factor in making hiring decisions – a nice way of saying they are technically allowed to discriminate on that basis. However, they are still liable to ensure that all customers can utilize their facilities in a fair and equitable way. As such, their facility must allow for easy entry, navigation of the premises, adjustment of all facilities and similar to allow members of the public with various disabilities to utilize the business.
And yes, this includes their website.
Small businesses that do business online are particularly vulnerable to lawsuits and demands made by members of the public who determine their websites to not be accessible. Automated solutions such as overlays have been ruled to be non compliant. There is no quick, easy and cheap way to be compliant if your site was already built and is non-conforming. In that case, you need to audit your site, page-by-page, remediate, and re-audit to ensure that all changes were completed properly.
How to Conform With the Law
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