There has been a wave of concern sweeping through the digital space because of the increase in lawsuits against websites that aren’t ADA compliant. Could your Shopify store be next?
In this article, we take you through the basics of ADA and explore how you can make sure your Shopify store is ADA compliant.
What is the ADA?
The American Disabilities Act is “a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life, including jobs, schools, transportation, and all public and private places that are open to the general public.”
As an example, here’s an excerpt from ADA in regard to parking: “An accessible parking space must have an access aisle, which allows a person using a wheelchair or other mobility device to get in and out of the car or van.”
But unlike parking lots, there are no specific laws detailing how a website should adhere to the ADA. Currently, the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines act as the de facto basis for a website’s ADA compliance.
Websites and mobile apps are considered “public accommodations” under ADA
Does ADA compliance really apply to digital spaces, like websites? How can that be?
Well, judges in two cases determined that websites and mobile apps are still subject to ADA compliance. The first case was Gil v. Winn Dixie. Judge Scola stated that if “a website is heavily integrated with physical store locations and operates as a gateway to the physical store locations,” it is a public accommodation and therefore under ADA.
The second case was Robles v. Domino’s Pizza, where the panel summarized that “the ADA applies to the services OF a public accommodation” and that “the website and app connected customers to the goods and services of Domino’s physical restaurants.” So, Domino’s website and mobile app were expected to comply with the ADA.
Based on these two cases, websites and mobile apps are considered either public accommodation or services of a public accommodation which is both under Title III of the ADA.
In other words, if a website is an extension of an entity that serves the public (like a restaurant or store), then it has to follow the rules set out by the ADA and the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines.
Laws and Guidelines that support the ADA
The CVAA (21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act) was signed by President Obama in 2010 to make sure that “accessibility laws enacted in the 1980s and 1990s are brought up to date with 21st-century technologies, including new digital, broadband, and mobile innovations.”
The W3C WAI (World Wide Web’s Consortium Website Accessibility Initiative) created the WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) which made it clearer how to make websites accessible for people with disabilities.
According to the WCAG 2.1 “At a Glance” section, for a website to be considered “accessible,” it must adhere to four principles: Perceivable, Operable, Understandable, and Robust. But what do these principles look like in practice? Don’t worry, we’ll get into the details in a little bit.
But for now, just know that even though the WCAG is only a set of guidelines, not regulations nor laws, the court still uses the WCAG to determine the ADA compliance of a website.
Also, even with all these guidelines, there are still some aspects not explicitly stated. Usually, it’s these gray areas that become the catalyst for lawsuits.
What happens when ADA lawsuits against websites are launched?
Big companies such as Amazon, Burger King, and Hulu were sued for having non-compliant websites. Most of these lawsuits are either settled privately or dismissed.
However, as we’ve mentioned earlier, Winn Dixie’s and Domino’s cases actually went to court. And these high-profile losses could open the floodgates of lawsuits even further. Partly, that’s because those cases reaffirmed that websites and mobile apps are subject to the ADA.
In general, ADA lawsuits against websites can be handled by settlements or litigation. If fought in court, the plaintiff cannot be compensated for damages. Only attorney fees can be paid out. But if you go to court, it’s likelier to bring about the negative press for your company.
Bottom line? It’s best to make your website ADA compliant as soon as possible. It is likely that you’ll face a lawsuit at some point (if you are not yet compliant). Just last year, there were 2200 cases against websites that weren’t ADA compliant.
Also, if you get caught with a non-ADA-compliant Shopify store, you’ll have to rush to get those fixes in. Aside from the attorney fees you’ll be paying, that will cost a lot more money than introducing ADA compliant changes to your website over time, with regular maintenance and updates.
How do I make my Shopify Store ADA Compliant?
The main argument that compels websites and mobile apps to be in compliance with ADA is that if a website is connected to a physical store, then it’s subject to the same rules. So you might be wondering, What if I’m totally e-commerce?
Currently, the courts are considering the “broad mandate” of the Title III of ADA, which is to ensure that people with disabilities have the same access to goods and services as those people without disabilities. That would mean that if you sell something--whether it’s strictly through a website or through a brick-and-mortar store (or a combo)--your website must be ADA compliant.
Bottom line? We recommend website ADA compliance whether you have a physical store or not. Compliance not only helps you avoid lawsuits, but it also promotes equality for those with limited physical capabilities.
Guidelines and Tips
As we mentioned earlier, the ADA as it relates to websites does not outline specific rules itself. But the verdict of the two cases which won against stores sets a precedent for using the WCAG guidelines to determine if a website is “accessible.”
Here are the four principles of WCAG:
Perceivable - “Information and user interface components must be presentable to users in ways they can perceive.”
How you can do this:
How you can do this:
How you can do this:
How you can do this:
- Maximize compatibility with current and future user tools.
Also, here are a few more things to keep in mind when making or upgrading your Shopify site for compliance:
- Keyboard Navigation - The website must have an option to be navigable using only a keyboard. Visually impaired people and people with fewer motor skills usually use the keyboard to navigate websites.
There also must be links on the website that help with navigation.
- Helpful Text - Visually impaired people use text-to-speech programs or screen readers to navigate websites. Having alt-text on images makes it helpful for visually impaired people to decipher the content.
Error messages should also be detailed for visually impaired people to properly fill out forms.
Links could also have tooltips that say their description or destination to help in navigation.
Videos should also have subtitles/captions and a transcript.
- Visual Accessibility - There are multiple options to make a website visually accessible for people who are impaired or people with severe learning disabilities
- Contrast - High contrast content (light text on dark background) is preferable. Also, having options to change contrast is much better.
- Fonts - Font sizes should be large enough to read without zooming in, preferably at least 14pt. Font styles should preferably be easily distinguishable.
- Spacing - Text must be properly spaced to lessen the difficulty of reading
- Removing unnecessary pop-ups - This can be distracting for people with dyslexia or severe-learning disabilities, leaving them confused when reading. This should be minimized.
While there are still gray areas when it comes to ADA compliance and e-commerce stores, there will likely be new laws that remedy the lack of specificity.
New York lawmakers are already planning to introduce such new laws and once they have been implemented, most states will follow suit. At that point, you will have no choice but to make your website ADA compliant.
However, you shouldn't wait for that to happen. You could be sued as soon as tomorrow if your website isn’t ADA compliant.
Other Compliance Solutions
If you don’t have the budget or time to make your Shopify store ADA compliant by hand, there are some short-cut tools you can use in the meantime.
Shopify Accessibility Apps
These apps might be helpful during the creation of your store or as a temporary help for compliance while you build in more permanent solutions.
We still recommend that you contact your Shopify Expert to help you. That’s because the WCAG has multiple, specific guidelines that might not be covered by the apps alone.
Voice-controlled Shopify Store
VoiceSell is a company that offers voice support to e-commerce sites to improve accessibility. The company recently raised $4 million in funding to bring voice support to existing online stores including those hosted on Shopify.
VoiceSell CEO, Mike McEvoy said in a prepared statement that, “VoiceSell is a completely new approach to giving retailers a uniquely private and robust voice experience.”
VoiceSell now offers its services for beta testing and they expect to fully launch this second quarter.
Even with apps and VoiceSell to help you get more ADA compliant quickly, we emphasize that you invest in making your store completely ADA compliant right now.
ADA compliant Shopify store is beneficial
Compliance to the ADA not only protects you from costly surprise lawsuits, but it also makes sure that disabled people can access your site with the same freedom as everyone else.
Also, most importantly, ADA compliance opens your store up to more audiences. By showing that your store is friendly to disabled people, you make it possible for previously excluded communities to access your store and purchase your goods and services.
It’s a win win win situation. So what are you waiting for? Fix your website now and make it compliant.