I recently reminded my colleagues that law and mediation practices are public accommodations that are subject to title III of the ADA. Public accommodations must provide full and equal enjoyment of their facilities and services. The ADA also requires that businesses and organizations that serve the public communicate effectively with people who have communication related disabilities. The goal is to ensure that communication with people with visual and auditory disabilities is equally effective as communication with people without disabilities.
Even though the Department of Justice has kept kicking the can down the road when it comes to establishing regulations to address technical standards to make websites accessible to people with disabilities, that has not stopped the DOJ from moving forward successfully with lawsuits across the country based on its reading of the ADA as requiring websites and mobile applications to be available to everyone.
A law firm’s website is both a service of that firm and a communication. In short, websites must provide both equal access and effective communication to people with disabilities. How do you meet your obligation to provide full and equal enjoyment of your website and effective communication to people with visual and hearing impairments?
You can relax a little, because many websites can be read by people with visual impairments using software designed to read text. Images and sounds create different challenges. If you’re not sure whether your website meets Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), there are lots of free applications that will analyze your website in seconds just by pasting your URL. They can give you a pretty good indication of whether your website is effectively communicating and how it can be improved. Here is a link to an online article showing several free web-based web accessibility evaluation tools:
Photographs and illustrations provide a common impediment to communication in websites for people who can’t see them. This can be addressed merely by inserting a description of the function of what is being represented. (As an example, describing my photograph – “Nice guy in a suit”.) If your website has audio, you can supply a captioned version of the audio for individuals with severe hearing impairments.
If you need help, it may be time to pull in a web accessibility consultant to identify accessibility issues within a website and define options for fixing them. “They can save a business thousands of dollars by streamlining web development, and millions in avoidable litigation," says Web Accessibility Consultant Kim Hampton of Aperior (aperior.com).
Automated testing can apprise you of glaring gaps in compliance and a general overview of usability, but a consultant acts as an "advocate for the users of the site", says Hampton. “Of course we audit the site and report on its accessibility and compliance with accepted standards, but we also test and consult with the idea of the person using the site or software, and ask things like: ‘What if she has a learning disability, or color blindness, or both?’ That’s the only way to do it right that I know of, and I’ve been at this for over two decades,” says Hampton.
Ref Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) Overview https://www.w3.org/WAI/intro/wcag.php
David Geffen is a Mediator and recognized ADA Expert (but not a web consultant.)
David Geffen Mediation offers a Three Hour Mediation package for $750.00