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ADA Website Compliance: The Basics of What Every Organization Should Know

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ADA Website Compliance: The Basics of What Every Organization Should Know

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is intended to “prohibit discrimination and guarantee that people with disabilities have the same opportunities as everyone else to participate in the mainstream of American life -- to enjoy employment opportunities, to purchase goods and services, and to participate in State and local government programs and services.” · How does this intent translate to websites that allow individuals to purchase goods or services? · What websites might be subject to the ADA? · What happens if someone who, for example, is blind or visually impaired cannot use a particular website? · Can the business that owns or controls the website be liable to that person? · What standards might govern the accessibility of websites? · How might a website conform to the ADA?

Transcript

- Hi, this is Stacey Turmel and this presentation is ADA Website Compliance: The Basics of What Every Organization Should Know. First we're gonna start with what is the ADA? The Americans with Disabilities Act is a federal civil rights law that was enacted back in 1990. And it prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in every day activities. What exactly does the ADA prohibit? What types of activities are we talking about here? The ADA prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability, just like any other civil rights law prohibits discrimination, other civil rights laws similar to those that discriminate against people based on race, culture, sex, age, the ADA is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability. The ADA, in fact, guarantees that people with disabilities have the same opportunities as everyone else to enjoy employment opportunities, purchase goods and services, and participate in local and state government programs and services. So it's interesting to note that the ADA actually guarantees that access and this information is taken directly from the ada.gov website. So in essence, the ADA protects people with disabilities. So who is somebody with a disability? What exactly is a disability? A person with a disability is someone who has a physical or mental impairment that could substantially limit one or more of their major life activities also could have or have a history or record of an impairment, like somebody who had previously gone through cancer treatment, or a cancer that could potentially be in remission or somebody who is perceived by others as having such an impairment such as a person who may have, for example, suffered a severe burn and you can notice the scarring. And so that person is protected under the ADA as being somebody who is perceived to have a disability. So for example, if that individual was denied employment as a result of the way they looked because of the severe burns, then the ADA would protect them from that discrimination because it is actually based on a perceived disability. And again, that is from ada.gov. So let's talk about now the ADA and the Department of Justice directives. The Department of Justice which is the organization that is supposed to enforce the ADA says that the Americans with Disabilities Act requires any person, business or organization that is covered under the act to communicate effectively about their programs, services, and activities. And what we're finding is that, over the last five to seven years, is that this also includes information provided through websites. Which leads us to our next question, which is, what does that mean? What does it mean to ensure that you're supposed to communicate effectively about your programs and services? Whether you're a person of business or an organization like local and state government. So we come back to communicating effectively, who is covered, or who does the ADA regulate? Who falls under the purview of the ADA? So the ADA has several titles. The ADA requires the following types of businesses and organizations to create websites that are accessible. These are businesses and organizations that are subject to the ADA. So Title I employers under the ADA are employers that have 15 or more employees, and this can also include state and local governments. Title II under the ADA covers state and local government services, programs, and activities. And then Title III under the ADA is actually dealing with what is called public accommodation businesses and nonprofits that are serving the public. And this has been a hotly contested issue, which is what is a public accommodation business? So what is listed in the ADA is a laundry list of professional services, this would include professional offices, restaurants, gyms, private schools, also includes privately-operated transit, like rideshare companies, also taxis, hotel, shuttles and that type of thing. And so these Title III public accommodation businesses are required to provide people with disabilities an equal opportunity to access the goods and services they offer. Well, what's the big deal about a public accommodation business? Well, the interesting thing about a public accommodation business is that it can be a business of one person. And if it is a business that falls under this list, for example, like an accounting firm or a law firm, that is a business of one, because it is a public accommodation business, it falls under the purview of the ADA and in some areas geographically across the United States as we will discuss a little bit later, that impacts whether or not you are required to have an accessible website. Well, what about the Federal government? So in the Federal government, we look at what's called Section 508 Compliance. So Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act that was amended by the Workforce Investment Act of 1998, requires federal agencies to develop, procure, maintain, and use information and communications technology, which for short is called ICT, to make it accessible to people with disabilities, regardless of whether or not they work for the federal government. So this includes your federal government websites. For example, if Nana needs to access the social security website, that website is supposed to be accessible to somebody with a disability. And so if Nana has difficulty navigating that website because of accessibility barriers, that's a problem. So that falls under the purview of Section 508. Federal agencies are responsible for making sure that their information and services are accessible to people with disabilities. So the revised 508 standards not only include just typical IT and systems, but it also includes electronic content which can include documents as also been held to include web pages, presentations, social media content, blogs, informational blogs that could be provided on a federal government website and also emails. So this is what's covered under Section 508. So for the rest of the private sector, to a certain extent, under public accommodations businesses, we have Title III of the ADA. When it comes to federal agencies, we're looking at Section 508 of the United States Rehabilitation Act. Both of these regulations, if you will, are requiring this information to be accessible. So why is this such a big deal? Why do we even care? Well, what's been going on is that businesses are at a serious risk and organizations are also at a serious risk. Since 2017, there has been an exponential increase in ADA website litigation across the country. In fact, in 2021, it actually was a record-breaking year in that there were more than 4,055 lawsuits that were filed that year dealing with ADA website compliance. The math on this is that that equates to about 10 lawsuits a day. So the top three jurisdictions have been New York with 2,198 lawsuits, California behind at 1,366 lawsuits and Florida at 204 lawsuits. Now, Florida used to have a lot more lawsuit filings in 2020, 2019, 2018, 2017 as a result of the Gil versus Winn-Dixie Case. But what happened in 2021 was the Eleventh Circuit that was reviewing that case that was on appeal, the Southern District Court in the Gil versus Winn-Dixie Case in 2017 determined that when Dixie's website was not accessible and made them responsible for getting it accessible. And Winn-Dixie appealed that ruling and that appeal took two and a half years for the Eleventh Circuit to review. And I believe in 2021, the Eleventh Circuit issued a ruling that said that a website was not a public accommodation business because it was not listed in the list of public accommodations businesses in Title III of the ADA. We have to remember that the ADA was written in 1990. I'm not sure how many websites, if any, were in existence at that point in time. Anyways, the court took a very strict reading of the statute. There's been some back and forth with regards to the Winn-Dixie ruling. And so because of that ruling in the appellate court, Florida basically stopped being a favorable place for plaintiffs to file an ADA website compliance lawsuit. So that's why the Florida number is low. And we will talk a little bit more about the difference in treatment across the country, depending on where you are, as far as which courts view what, when it comes to websites. So the bulk of these lawsuits are hitting small and medium organizations, they make up about two-thirds of the organizations or companies sued. And that's because they are targeted by these plaintiffs, many of which who are serial plaintiffs who are filing these lawsuits. So obviously, we have ADA website compliance, so what are the rules of ADA website compliance? Do we have any statutes? Do we have any regulations that have been promulgated by an authoritative agency in the United States that set forth what these requirements are? And the answer is we do not. We do not have anything that specifically sets forth what the requirements are that have been promulgated by an agency to say, here is the list of what you have to comply with. So there's no legislation that has directly set out these a technical requirement or requirements for website accessibility. So the Department of Justice has taken the viewpoint that the ADA does apply to public accommodations businesses, or public accommodations websites, which has been the lion share of these lawsuits that are filed. But the Department of Justice has not clarified exactly what are the technical standards that the websites are supposed to meet in order to comply with the law. So what's been happening for us to even have a clue on what to do? And what's been happening has been a free-for-all in website compliance litigation. So in the absence of these requirements, we are seeing requirements being developed through the case law. And what the case law has looked at and regularly referred to is something called the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, or WCAG. You might hear it referred to as WCAG, but you'll probably more likely see it as WCAG. So what does this mean? Well, because there's such a legal difference, a vast legal difference, if you will, across states as to whether a business or organization's website must be compliant, really the bottom line is that where you do business is what's gonna impact your risk. Well, what do I mean by that? I mean, you could have a client who is sitting in Florida, which has one particular view on whether or not a website should be accessible for a public accommodation business, but that client could do business with people across the country and other states that might have very differing views than what Florida has on website accessibility. And so these are some of the considerations that we have to take into account when we're reviewing what is a considered to be a very rapidly shifting area of the law, where cases are coming down on a daily basis. So we have two viewpoints on website accessibility with regards to public accommodations businesses. One viewpoint is the minority view on website accessibility. And the minority view that's followed by certain federal circuits, basically says that standalone websites are public accommodations within the meaning of the ADA. And so what these courts have done is they have basically focused and emphasized on how important it is, how critical it is that websites exist and that are utilized these days in our daily life and they're important for transacting business and that because of the ADA is supposed to protect people with disabilities that this also includes standalone websites and then that was part of Congress's intention when enacting the ADA, even though it might not be listed specifically in writing, in the statute, but the intention is there. So what is this breakdown to? Well, so if you have a client who has a business and that business is an online e-commerce store, and that business only exists online, the states that follow the minority viewpoint that a website is a place of public accommodation, that means that your client's business, if they are transacting and doing business with customers from those states that have this minority viewpoint, then your public accommodation e-commerce standalone website needs to be accessible. The contrasting view would be that if your client with their individual standalone e-commerce business website is doing business with people from states that don't follow this minority view and follow a different view that because it's a standalone website, it might not be required to be accessible to people with disabilities. I know it's confusing, I know it's frustrating, but I'm just reporting, this is what's going on right now in the litigation. So we've talked about the minority view, so let's talk about the majority view. So the majority view on website accessibility is that websites are not public accommodations under the ADA, but a denial of equal access to a website can support an ADA claim if the denial has prevented a disabled plaintiff from equal access or enjoyment of the goods and services that are offered at a defendant's location. So here the courts in the majority view, here the courts are relying on Congress's explicit list, of that list in public accommodations under Title III, that a website isn't in there, because all of those lists or those particular businesses, the professional offices, those types of things, the restaurants, the recreational facilities, those categories describe a physical location. So the courts here, they recognize that it's important to do business on the internet, and it's important to have access, but really what they're doing here is they're following what can be best classified as a nexus theory. So to the extent that there are barriers on the website that inhibit an individual's ability to access benefits at a certain organization that is tied to a physical location, that claim can be actionable under a nexus theory. And we saw this play out in the California courts in the Robles versus Domino's Case. And Mr. Robles was trying to order a pizza using the Domino's app and he's he's blind and the app wasn't accessible and he was trying to order the pizza and he couldn't order the pizza despite repeated efforts. And so he tried to work around it and it wasn't working. So he eventually sued Domino's for having an inaccessible website and app that prevented him, a blind person from being able to utilize the technology to order a pizza that would be picked up at the location or delivered to him. And so the Ninth Circuit, which covers California, the Ninth Federal Circuit found that Domino's was required to make its website and mobile app accessible to somebody who uses assistive technology through the nexus theory, that being that the app and the website were integral to Mr. Robles being able to utilize those technologies to order the pizza and it was directly tied or had a nexus to the Domino's physical location. Make sense? So that's the nexus theory. So we also have some state court requirements when it comes to accessibility in addition to what the different federal court interpretations have been. And one of the more popular ones or prevalent ones is consequences that would fall under the California Unruh Act, and that's U-N-R-U-H. So the California Unruh Act was enacted back in 1959. And it was to ban discrimination from business establishment. And then it was amended in 1992, so that's two years after the ADA came out to apply also and include people with disabilities. So no discrimination with people with disabilities. So what's interesting with the Unruh Act is that, even though our ADA, the Americans with Disability Act does not provide for damages, it provides for what's called remediation, injunctive relief, meaning fix it and it also provides for attorney fees, plaintiff's attorney's fees, but it doesn't give you like, oh, here you get a million dollars, that's not how the ADA works, but here in the California Unruh Act and also some other state laws, you as a plaintiff can be entitled to three times your actual damages but no less than $4,000 in statutory damages. And the $4,000 can be interpreted as per incident. So you could see how that could become incredibly risky and add up really quickly, depending on how a court was viewing violations with website accessibility. So California is also one of those states that is very protective over their citizens. So like I was talking about a little while ago when I said, where you do business is where, you need to look at your risk based on where you do business, because California courts have found that anybody that has a website that can be accessed or used by a California citizen can arguably be hauled into court in California and held accountable under the Unruh Act for discriminating against somebody with a disability. So this is liability under a California State law even if your business isn't located there, but if you're doing business with California people, which a lot of businesses do, I mean, e-commerce usually doesn't say, hey, I'm only selling t-shirts here. Don't call me if you're from another state, they're usually selling to everywhere. Well, California's on that list. And so California says you can be liable. So that case was the Thurston versus Fairfield Case. It's a case from 2020 that was out of the California State Court. And the court there broadly interpreted the California website accessibility laws, and basically held a Georgia-based company responsible to make sure its website was accessible because California consumers made up about 10% of that company's customer base and about 8% of sales. So it certainly seems like they do consider the impact. I mean, if you had one, I'm not sure what a court would do, but this case law stands for the premise that you need to pay attention about where you're doing business as far as where your liability or risk for liability might lie. So we also need to talk a little bit about the California Consumer Privacy Act. So what the California Consumer Privacy Act says is that if you have a privacy policy and your privacy policy maybe is potentially accessed by somebody in California and that privacy policy is not accessible, that's a violation under the California Consumer Privacy Act. And this sometimes is called the CCPA. So they incorporate by reference the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines that we talked about a little earlier, that is, talks about what are the requirements, we'll go into those in a little bit, but any information that you're collecting from a consumer, this could be a California consumer that may have some sort of disability, the information that you're sharing on your privacy policy needs to be accessible. And those violations can be up to $7,500 per violation. So they take this very seriously. And so these regulations include an accessibility requirement for various notices, as far as how you're collecting personal information, data for advertising and cookie notices and different things like that. Remember we talked a little while ago about the case law that has been coming out as far as what are these standards, who sets the standards for website accessibility? We don't have any regulations. We have some general guidelines that have been included in, basically saying, be accessible, but what does that mean? And so we talked about the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. So the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines were developed by an organization called the World Wide Web Consortium, which is also known as the W3C. And so the World Wide Web Consortium is the group that basically created the internet back in 1989. So we've had several versions of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines and the most recent version is version 2.1 which came out in 2018 and 2.2, we're supposed to have by the end of 2022. So there are three levels of accessibility that are talked about or identified in the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. You have single A, which is considered to be basic, double A, which is considered to be middle of the road and then triple A, which is considered to be, wow, that's fantastic, this is so accessible. So when we talked earlier about Section 508 under the Rehabilitation Act that federal government information is supposed to be accessible, federal government websites must meet the double A level. So that's the middle of the road level of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. So there are four principles of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. Principle one, we're gonna talk about these in a little more detail so you can understand what do they mean? So principle one is called perceivable. And so the general principle here is that information and user interface components are supposed to be presented to users in ways that they can perceive what the information is. Principle two is operable. And what this means is that user interface components and navigation must be able to work. They must be operable. And then principle three is called understandable. So the information and the operation of the user interface is supposed to be understandable. You're supposed to know what that information is, like you can understand it. And principle four is called robust. And so this is the technical side which is the, IT of the content must be robust enough that it can be interpreted by a wide variety of user agents, including assistive technologies. So what this means in principle four, is that how the website is built or the pages are rendered, that it must be able to be reviewed in a way by assistive technologies so that they can understand and interpret what the information is. So let's talk about principle one, perceivable. What do we mean here? Well, in perceivable, to think about, somebody who's using assistive technology, what is assistive technology? So assistive technology is something that somebody with a disability uses to navigate websites, to use different interfaces. So for example, somebody who is blind, they can't use a mouse on a computer because they would never know where is the mouse on the screen because they're blind, they can't see. So what assistive technology does, this could be like some sort of program or something like that, is it scans the website for data, for information and then it speaks to that person, whether it's through speakers or through a headset, and basically reads to them the information that's on that website. So it's very important to understand that there is a difference between words on a picture and a picture of words. So words on a picture can be scanned and read by assistive technology, but a picture of words, a photograph of words cannot, it's just a photograph. So under principle one, perceivable, the main parts here, and there's a laundry list of information under principle one, so I'm just including some salient points that are more at risk category for most websites, is text alternatives, providing text alternatives for any non-text content so that it can be changed into other forms that people need. This would include large print braille, speech, symbols, or a simpler language. So for example, if you have a photograph of words and you don't have alternative texts or alt text, maybe you've heard that phrase alt text that basically says what's on the picture or describes the picture, somebody who is utilizing assistive technology that scanning through that website might get just something that is just the file name, like image 1543. Well, that literally tells them nothing about what that image is. This also relates to time-based media. And so specifically here we're talking about closed captions, text captions to help understand what the context of the media is. So some other considerations under principle one is text adaptable. So creating content that can be presented in different ways, like a simpler layout in a website without losing information or structure. You wanna make it easier. You wanna make it distinguishable for and make it easier for users to see and hear the content, being able to separate the foreground from the background. So this we're talking about use of color and contrasting colors and no need for what's called two dimensional scrolling. So with color contrast, for example, gray on gray, while some might think that that's really cool looking, it's an inaccessible color screen for obvious reasons. It's very difficult to distinguish text from the background if it's gray on gray. Two-dimensional scrolling, what is that? Well, have you ever come across a website where you've increased the size of it, and then you have to scroll left and right and up and down in order to try to find the content, the text doesn't wrap, that's called two-dimensional scrolling, that's considered to be a violation of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. Those are just some common issues that we see quite regularly. Let's talk about principle two, this is operable. So what I mentioned earlier is that somebody who is blind can't really use a mouse. So how do they navigate a website? Well, they utilize their keyboard. They utilize the Tab keys on their keyboard, and they will also utilize the arrows to move up and down and across the website so that's why it's important that a website in order to be accessible can be keyboard navigable. So everything has to be functionable and available from a keyboard and also make sure that nobody gets stuck in what's called a keyboard trap. I don't know if you've ever had a problem where you've navigated on a website to maybe filling out an email address where you're maybe subscribing to a newsletter and then you can't leave that box, no matter how hard you try, you can't get out of it and won't let you go anywhere. Well, that's called a keyboard trap. So you can imagine somebody who is blind trying to understand why they can't move anywhere else in the webpage, they're stuck so they either have to try to figure out some way to close the website down, or basically close the whole program down and get out of it. So that's called keyboard accessible. Also making sure that somebody has enough time to use the content on a website and to understand it. So if there's a website that has what are called auto scrolling banners, banners that continue to move that can't be stopped or paused, that can be very problematic and can pose an accessibility barrier if it's content that also has words on it and it continues to be scanned by the assistive technology and it'd be kind of like the beeping that you get on your smoke alarm when the battery's going low, it's just continuing to beep or continuing to read those words. So maybe those words are, "Sale 30% off." And no matter what you do, as you're trying to navigate through a website, the assistive technology just continues to read that scrolling banner. You can imagine how frustrating that might be to somebody who doesn't understand why that information is continuing to be repeated. We also talk about here in operable seizures and physical reactions. So if you have content on a website that has a lot of flashing, that can be a potential seizure or hazard, if there's flashing that occurs in under one second. So the goal would be not to have any flashing content. This is usually something we see more with like gaming, but they can be a seizure risk. We also talk about navigability on a website, so that there's ways to navigate across repeating content. So if there's side banners that are repeating, because it's part of the style, maybe it's similar information that's presented in side banners, is there a way to skip through that content? Are all the links identified? Are the pages titled? Do you understand where you are and what the information is that's on there? Can you operate and input text using the keyboard and also maybe potentially a touch screen? So there's various modalities that you can utilize to make input on the website. So principle three, understandable. This seems pretty self-explanatory, but sometimes certain websites have some very technical information or depending on what the purpose of the website is, it might utilize phrases and terms that might not be commonly known or understood. What's helpful in this situation is to have maybe a key, like if you use a lot of acronyms or something like that, break it down, have a place where somebody can understand what the acronyms mean. The whole goal of a website is for you to communicate to your audience the information that you would like to share. And if you're not finding a way to share that information in a way they can understand it, then what's the purpose of the website. So these are the considerations that we're trying to to think about. So we wanna make it understandable. Sometimes this can be accomplished through offering, like if there's a medical dictionary, there's a medical dictionary link where information can be looked up. If there's slang phrases, like I've already said, or some work terms that are not commonly known, provide some context so that people understand it. You also want to make the information or the webpages appear in a predictable way. So as you're moving through it, meaning that it's organized similarly that makes it easier to navigate and easier to find the information. So there's consistent navigation and consistent identification, meaning that not every page is completely different. There might be some creativity and that's understandable, but I think what's easier for most people is to encounter something that is predictable and consistent and easy to navigate to get through the information in order to read it. Most people don't want to spend a lot of time trying to figure things out. They have a short attention span. They just wanna get the information as quick as possible and move on. And this is what principle three is geared towards. What about input assistance? This is also part of principle three. So what we're talking about here is error code identification. And when I'm talking about error codes, I'm talking about related to input fields. So if you can imagine, if you were filling out a form and you fill out the form and you go to hit submit and the form doesn't submit, and there's no indication on the form what the problem is, that becomes an accessibility problem. You could imagine if you can't see and you're trying to input information and you hit submit, and you're given no indication on where the problem might be. So providing error prevention mechanisms and also error correction suggestions is really important. It's also important to provide confirmation for the input of sensitive information like financial information and health information. If you can imagine if you were entering a bank account number, you'd want to be able to confirm that information or maybe some other personal identifying information. And if you are a person with a disability who can't see what's being put in there, you'd want to know that this information is being put in there accurately, correct? So if you just think about it in those contexts, you can see how these types of recommendations, not only help people with disabilities, but they also make the experience more enjoyable for everybody who's utilizing a website. So principle four, which is the robust principle, and we're not gonna spend a lot of time on that because this is really the technical side of accessibility. So what we're talking about here is that the website can be utilized and navigated using assistive technology, meaning it's coded properly that somebody using assistive technologies such as JAWS for Windows, or NVDA or VoiceOver by Apple can navigate through the website. Well, what does that mean? Well, for example, if your website was built and it has dropdown menus, but those dropdown menus aren't properly coded to indicate to somebody who is navigating that website using assistive technology that that is a dropdown menu, and there's more information there, they are not gonna know to look there. They're just gonna scan across it and just come in contact with a header, a title of information with nothing below it. So for example of that individual who's seeking assistance from a law firm and they're navigating to the tab that says Our Team, but Our Team hasn't been built or coded in a way to demonstrate that it is a dropdown menu with more information, that person is not gonna know who's on the team and they're gonna skip right across that. That's an accessibility problem. That's a build problem. That's a technical issue in how the website was built and coded. So that's what we're talking about there. We also want the website to be utilized across different operating systems, PC and iOS, Android for mobile, and also different browser platforms. It is not uncommon for websites to be more navigable and accessible in certain website browser platforms, like for example, Chrome or Safari versus other platforms like Microsoft Edge or Mozilla Firefox. So just things to consider, and there's nothing wrong with that. There's nothing wrong with your website populating in a more accessible way in one particular browser over another. That's not a problem and it's quite common. So now that we've gone through the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, and this was a very abbreviated version of reviewing those, you can see why it becomes overwhelming. So many people want to just grab onto something that is hopefully a quick fix and that'll take care of everything. So there's a lot of information out there that seems to be like some automated solution might be the answer. Unfortunately, automated fixes are not the answer and they can actually create more risks. Sometimes these are called widgets. Sometimes these are called accessibility plugins, artificial intelligence. They might populate with menus that are activated through an icon on the website that might bring up a host of different changes that you can make by making the text bigger, changing the space, changing the color, and the color contrast and while that might seem to be very interesting and helpful, you have to remember that somebody who's blind is not gonna care because that's not gonna help them because they can't see. So while that might be helpful to some people, what's generally found is that these accessibility plugins or aftermarket technology that gets added into a website actually interferes with the assistive technology. And so it's important to do your due diligence to see if you can find anything out there that would actually help versus put you at risk for more lawsuits. Most of these plugins, they don't work and they interfere with the assistive technology. In 2021, over 400 lawsuits were filed against companies that were using a plugin or widget and that rate is continuing to increase on a rapid basis. So sometimes what can happen is that if you have an accessibility widget on your website that you believe is helping you, it might just be making you a target because of previous lawsuits that have demonstrated that that widget does not work and does not make your website accessible. And now a plaintiff attorney and a plaintiff knows that your website is utilizing that and they send you a demand letter. So just things to think about. So what can you do to make your website, your products and your services more accessible? What are your options? So, one of the things that you can do is you can add an accessibility statement to your website. So an accessibility statement is a textual document that can actually be added as a page and is similar to what you'll see on websites for like a privacy policy, terms and conditions, and that type of thing. You see these in the footer of the website. And so that's where it would live. So it would be a link to a page that says accessibility statement. And what you want to indicate in that accessibility statement is that, how accessibility's important to your organization that your working diligently to create a better experience for people who have low vision or are blind. And that you're a work in progress, that's understandable, and then offer for people to provide a feedback form or fill out a feedback form that they can give you or notify you of accessibility issues on your website. And then you wanna say how important this information is, and that you take it into consideration to continually improve your website and improve the website's accessibility and user experience. So what's important to this, you can provide also a link to an email. You can also provide a telephone number and/or a link to a telephone number for somebody to contact if they're experiencing accessibility issues on your website or maybe some of your website materials. For example, if you have brochures or information that is available for download, but it might be in a PDF format, maybe that PDF is not necessarily accessible, it's important to provide people with a place where they can make requests for alternatives, because they weren't able to navigate that information. So what's important to accomplish here. Well, one, you wanna make the accessibility statement, and there's lots of examples out there. You wanna make the accessibility statement reflect what you're doing. So not just performative, not just lip service, because that's not gonna help you. If you're providing contact information, then make sure it gets responded to, okay? So if somebody reaches out to you through an email or calls a telephone number, make sure it gets answered because that's one of the things that can put you at risk, is if you're just listing out information there that's really lip service and you have no intent in following through, that actually is gonna hurt you more than not having anything, because you're clearly disregarding anybody trying to reach out to you to get assistance. So respond. And if somebody reaches out to you and says, I'm having a problem, respond to them, how can I help you? What can I do to provide you with this information? Respond in a reasonable basis. But having an accessibility statement is really helpful. So if you can call it an accessibility statement, you can call it your company's accessibility policy, but either way, it is your commitment to accessibility. You would also wanna think about adding a digital compliance program or policy to your organization. So, many organizations have a compliance department. Well, digital accessibility should likely become part of that compliance department. Digital accessibility is not gonna be going anywhere anytime soon. I don't think we're gonna see the internet slowing down as far as business is concerned or people shying away from it as far as how it's being used in order to conduct business, I think it's only going to be increasing. So it's gonna be important to think about those compliance considerations for your organization. One of the things that has been demonstrated is that when you don't have a policy and there's a potential class action claim with regards to website accessibility of which there have been many, and those class action lawsuits are increasing, you could be accused of just having a general policy of discrimination, like you don't care about people who are being discriminated who have a disability. So just think about putting it as part of your corporate compliance department, accessibility. It's also helpful to publish a mission statement expressing your commitment to accessibility. You can indicate that you are adopting the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines standards. You can also set forth these guidelines with regards to third party contractors. So in your compliance department, if you're hiring somebody to build or maintain your website, paying attention to whether or not they've included the fact that it's gonna be accessible as part of what they're responsible for might be something for you to pay attention to and to consider when hiring that organization or individual. So some organizations will go so far as to appoint a digital accessibility compliance officer. And this is somebody who is knowledgeable in this area that's going to basically launch and implement a digital compliance protocol for your business. If you work with clients who are in the business, e-commerce business, this would be something that they would probably benefit from. It's also helpful to retain a consultant and who would perform and supervise audits of your digital assets, which can include mobile apps, your website, also your digital content and make recommendations for remediation. They can also provide training for your organization and employees to ensure that accessibility is getting baked in from the beginning. So in some lawsuits where the ADA, the court has required remediation which is pretty standard when it comes to website accessibility, a lot of these injunction terms require like what's on the list for compliance in order to get everything fixed is the retention of a digital compliance consultant who's going to facilitate the remediation along with company wide training. This is something that we are seeing in the terms of these settlement agreements and/or rulings by the court. So just something to think of. So let's talk a little bit about compliance tips. So if you're just thinking about or working with an organization or client that's gonna be building a website, think about accessibility, ADA website compliance from the beginning. If it's a small business and they're looking to just build a website using a website hosting platform, there's many out there, make sure that if they're gonna build the website, using some of these platforms and template, that they're using an accessible template. Some website platforms still have a section that these certain templates are accessible templates, which means that the rest are not, so something to consider when you're looking at it. Some website platforms, all of their templates are accessible, but it's important to do that search to make sure that whatever's being built is going to set you up for success from the beginning. Add descriptions to your pictures, this is a big issue that we see on a regular basis. When you take a picture with your phone, it usually just gets a file name attached to it. That's not a description. So if it's like a black dog that's out there on a blue surfboard, then put in the alt text that's describing what the picture is. That's what's called adding a description to your picture or alt text. Before your website goes live, you're ready to launch it, have it reviewed and test it to make sure that there aren't any bugs or anything that needs to be worked out. That's important to pay attention to. If your website is already up and running, then it would be great to have an audit. If you're in the middle of litigation, you're probably likely gonna need what's called a forensic audit, which is an audit that tests your website against all of the 78 testable criteria of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines in order to show you where the gaps are. If you're not in litigation, then you can have what's called a functional audit. These are my terms, but that is basically assessing the function of the website. Like what are some general issues that the website has that require remediation and then implement those recommendations to get your website compliant. Some organizations will certify your website as compliant, which will let people know that you're ADA friendly. It's difficult to certify a website as compliant because the minute that somebody makes a change on the website, if they're not doing it from a place of accessibility, then it's no longer accessible. So just think about that and take that into consideration and that's why the training is so helpful and also important to make sure that you're making things accessible from the beginning. So the goal here is to be accessible to everyone, serve everyone. Have your website and reviewed and tested by an expert that specializes in this area. Hire the help that you need, okay? Implement the recommendations made to get your website legally compliant that are under the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. Maintain your website with accessibility in mind and arrange ADA website compliance training to make sure that you and your team are starting from a place of accessibility and that you're leading with accessibility. That's really helpful to just bake it into the company culture and you'll find sooner rather than later that actually, it's better performing. It's reaching a greater and wider audience. You're actually benefiting from it as far as reaching more people, which is what you want your website for anyways, which is to get your information out there. So thank you. I hope that you found this program to be helpful, and I appreciate your time.

Presenter(s)

Stacey Turmel
Assistant General Counsel/Senior Vice President of Technology Transactions
Citigroup

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