DOJ is Set Up To Crack-Down on Non-Profits and Website Accessability

U.S. Capitol Building

Many non-profits may want to hold off on updating their websites with the newest, snazziest, bestest thing. As of September, the Department of Justice is seeking comments on how best to implement rules regarding  organizations covered under the ADA and website accessibility. Believe it or not, the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) applies to websites as well as physical accommodations. Unfortunately, the rules for websites just haven’t been as strictly enforced as those dealing with tangible issues such as accessibility ramps and braille. That is, until now.

Enacted in 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in employment, programs and services. Though applied broadly, the most common public misconception is that only private for-profit companies must comply.  To the contrary, many non-profit organizations fall under Title III of organizations  covered as well. Dealing  primarily with public accommodations, things such as libraries, museums, parks, zoos, schools, theatres, “gathering places”, etc. (a full list can be found here) are all covered.  For those who do fall under covered organizations, a recent opinion letter issued by the Department of Justice makes very clear that each is required to provide, “. . . effective communication, regardless of whether [they] generally communicate through print media, audio media, or computerized media such as the Internet.” That means, “. . . covered entities that use the Internet for communications regarding their programs, goods, or services must be prepared to offer those communications through accessible means as well.” In clearer terms, that means if your organization markets its programs or services online, you have to ensure that the website  allows for those with audio/visual/physical impairments to access the site as well as those fully-abled.

As of today, nothing concrete has happened but there is plenty that can be done in the mean time. First off, it might be helpful to familiarize yourself as to what the accessibility guidelines are and who exactly is covered. Cynthia Waddell has a great article explaining what the rules are and how best to implement them here. For those wanting to know whether they are currently in compliance, The Center for Applied Special Technology has a fantastic website that allows individuals to run a check on their website for accessibility compliance.

Many experts also suggest making little changes such as captioning audio and video visuals on your website, making it accessible for those who are visually and hearing impaired. Program a default language so that technologies such as Braille translators and screen readers may easily transmit information. Or remember to maintain keyboard navigation for those who may not be able to use a mouse. For more information, there is also a great website called the World Accessibility Initiative that has a bunch of resources that might help as well. Little things such as these may seem comparatively small for those of us who are fully-abled. But keep in mind,  having that snazzy flash introduction, or dozens of Java menus could end hindering those very same people you’re trying to help.