Introduced in 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was created to legally protect disabled people from being discriminated against by businesses and organisations.
Since its launch, there have been many amendments to this legislation to ensure that it keeps up with the modern world and provides disabled people with as many rights as possible.
You’d think that these amendments were largely a positive thing, but for some people, they can have devastating consequences.
Though this act is all about making reasonable accommodations for disabled people to help them fully access society, many smaller businesses and those with premises based in older buildings are finding themselves facing an increasing amount of lawsuits and litigations.
These can cost companies tens and even hundreds of thousands of dollars to fight against, and this is without mentioning the potential costs to change things if they lose.
In reality, these costs are simply too much for old and small companies to keep up with. Even locally established businesses are coming under fire, and for some, the constant threat of litigations is too much.
One such company that have crumbled under the pressure of ADA compliance laws is Jason’s Café in Menlo Park, California.
A small business who had operated in the area for 11 years with a large proportion of regular and appreciative customers, the own was forced to close after three lawsuits were filed against him.
These lawsuits reflected on the building his café resided in, despite the fact that the building was built 40 or 50 years ago, before the ADA even existed.
The first lawsuit he received stated that the café’s parking lot wasn’t up to scratch as the painted lines and accompanying access aisles for the disabled parking spaces had faded, making it difficult for them to see. They also alleged that the door to the front of the building was too heavy for disabled people to open.
Before Jason Kwan, the owner, could arrange to remedy these changes, he was given another lawsuit. This one claimed that the bathroom door at the restaurant was too narrow for a wheelchair to get through, and even if a wheelchair user managed it, they would find it difficult to navigate the room in their chair.
Not only were the changes that Kwan felt he had no choice but to comply with extremely expensive for a small business, but he also had to account for the legal costs, which he was liable to pay. After a third lawsuit, he had to admit defeat and close his business for good.
When questioned about why he thinks ADA compliance lawsuits were made against his business, Kwan said that people target businesses in older buildings because it’s a guaranteed win, and easy money for the instigator.
Obviously the Americans with Disabilities Act has to primarily consider the rights of disabled people, but could they have gone too far and ended up unfairly penalising small businesses and those who work in older businesses?
To understand this, we need to look at the Americans with Disabilities Act and what it actually entails.
Essentially, to comply with the ADA, all establishments must provide reasonable accommodations to enable everyone to fully access an environment.
These reasonable accommodations often fall into measures like fitting ramps into the building for wheelchair users, or making sure that furniture is spaced out enough that a blind person can navigate said environment without difficulty.
Unfortunately, this legislation can also lead to people requesting that structural differences should be made to a building in order to accommodate disabled people, regardless of the cost this might cause a business.
This can involve inputting lifts, creating larger bathrooms—as was the request with Jason’s Café—or fitting larger doors to accommodate wheelchair users.
While it would be great for all companies to be able to make these changes, the truth is that it is simply not within the budget of most companies, who would struggle massively with such a large sum of money coming out at once.
As if this wasn’t bad enough, the ADA has also been amended in recent years to target online businesses.
The latest of these amendments was Title ||| in 2018, which Digital Authority Partners explains as something that was put into place to ensure that no digital property discriminates against people with disabilities.
Alongside other legislation protecting disabled people from being discriminated against online, this part of the ADA can be broken down into four different categories.
The first is perceivable, which is all about providing text alternatives for any non-text content, like images and videos. This is so that it can be changed into any format people may desire, including large print, braille, speech, symbols or simpler language.
The second category is operable, which is all about making sure that your website functions are all completely accessible from a keyboard as some disabled people are unable to use a computer mouse.
The third category is readable, which means that all your content should be clearly readable and understandable. This involves avoiding complex, jargon language and that a mechanism is made available for identifying specific definitions of unusual words or phrases.
The fourth and final category is compatibility, which is about maximising compatibility with current and future user agents, including assistive technologies.
If you want to read about these four categories and cover your back when it comes to being ADA compliant online, you can do so over on the dedicated website.
For those who don’t, you’re probably looking at what you’ve read and have been left wondering how anyone could be compliant when things are so complicated.
The truth is, so many companies aren’t compliant—and it’s not just smaller companies that are too blame.
Earlier this year, HealthcareWeekly reported that four big healthcare companies including WellPoint Inc and Tenet Healthcare have faced lawsuits due to a failure to abide by online ADA compliance laws.
If these large, corporate companies within a sector supposed to support large proportions of disabled people are struggling, how are smaller businesses expected to cope?
Is it fair that these smaller businesses are pushed to breaking point, with owners left with no choice but to close their services down, when ADA compliance laws have never seen so complicated—and expensive?
Personally, we don’t think so.
While we agree that every effort should be made to make sure that disabled people can access buildings and online websites as much as non-disabled people, we think there also needs to be a level of common sense to understand that larger, structural changes are not always possible.
Of course, every company should do what they can to make their services accessible, and they should absolutely be held responsible if they’re making no effort at all, but is it time that we give those who do try a break?
Let us know what you think and share your thoughts of the consequences of the ADA compliance laws below.