The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) is a Federal civil rights law signed in 1990 by the first President Bush. It prohibits discrimination based on a disability. The definition of a ‘disability’ is different under the ADA than in most state laws. Generally, it includes physical, sensory, psychiatric, and learning disabilities, as well as a long list of specific conditions. The ADA applies to all businesses that serve the public, employ 15 or more people and have a physical presence in the US – these would include virtually every website.
For a site to meet Section 508 standards, it must be designed to work with today’s widely used screen reading technology. Many sites today use tools like accessiBe in order to be compliant with the ADA. Section 508 does not require that a site be designed to work with assistive technology in addition to screen reading technology. Additionally, Section 508 does not require that the site meet any minimum contrast or font size requirements.
It is important to note that neither 504 nor 508 specifically requires evaluation of a site for accessibility by people with disabilities. However, numerous organizations within the disability community provide such evaluations. Many websites have chosen to undergo these evaluations to be certain that they are accessible. These types of evaluations are not required for a site to be Section 508 compliant, but they are strongly encouraged. Many organizations also require that sites under their control undergo these types of evaluations to meet 501c3 requirements.
To meet Section 508, a site must be accessible to people with disabilities beyond the blind, auditory impaired, and manually dexterous. Accessibility under ADA is defined as meeting “minimum standards of usability” for people with disabilities.
Title III of the ADA does not require that all products sold or services provided by a business are usable by people with disabilities. This would be considered an “undue burden.” One of the factors to determine “undue burden” is the type and size of business. Like a large corporation or government entity, a larger company is required to make more accommodations than a small business.
Accommodation for large sites may require reducing content, altering site architecture, or using techniques like Ajax to create a more dynamic experience. However, a small business with one location is not required to go that far in order to meet ADA 5101-3. There are organizations that certify web developers who have demonstrated the ability to provide accessible websites, including lists of developers meeting Section 508 standards.
In order to ensure that a site is accessible, the HTML code must meet guidelines from the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). It validates as XHTML 1.0 Transitional or HTML 4.01 Transitional. The W3C has a working group in place called the WAI Evaluation and Repair Tools Working Group, which provides evaluations of HTML code. Sites that are not valid HTML will have accessibility barriers to people using assistive technology. The most common CMS’, Content Management Systems, are not inherently accessible. This is because many of the techniques used to create dynamic websites are things that are not compatible with assistive technology.