Practical Ecommerce

ADA And State Disability Laws

We are often asked about compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. There is a reasonably strong argument, supported by court decisions, that a stand-alone business operating as a website with no physical presence may not be covered by the ADA. But without prolonged litigation we will not know for sure, and there is contradictory law on the point. Absent court decisions deciding whether states can enforce state disability laws, it may be that you will have to accommodate the disabled even if the ADA does not require it. If your website is a robust ecommerce site taking payments and selling goods, and you market or sell to residents within a particular state, you probably have to comply with that state’s laws.

We could discuss the legal issues in detail, but that is a legal exercise better left to the litigation environment. This is about solutions, and there are none on the legal front. For the small commercial website, the business solution is really quite simple. Comply with the ADA accommodations and you will likely be compliant with the state requirements. There are many excellent resources that can lead you and your programmer through the process. At least one of the best free testing environments disappeared on February 1, 2008, and is now only available in a high-end commercial setting. So, go ahead and move quickly to comply before the better resources become unavailable.

As a law firm serving small and mid-size businesses we recommend that instead of spending legal fees on lawyers studying compliance requirements you spend the money on smart and knowledgeable programmers and software, and commit your resources to creating as pleasing an online accommodation as you can afford. Aside from avoiding litigation, you will be opening up your site to an entirely new, and substantial, group of prospective customers.

We conduct legal audits and evaluations of websites and ecommerce businesses all the time. But I wouldn’t venture to tell you what coding and structural changes you need to make in order to comply. Industry web developers, compliance consultants and marketing experts can assist you with the nuts and bolts. We’ll tell a client when there is an obvious problem, such as images not having alt tags, or video and audio files not having an accompanying machine-readable text interpretation. But the accommodations, if ultimately required by law, will likely vary from site to site based on a number of different factors.

On a final note, keep in mind that the law of the Internet is evolving slowly. Do not play the waiting game. Don’t wait for the US Supreme Court decision that determines, once and for all, whether your business needed to comply with the ADA and state disability laws. If it ever comes, it will be years away. In the meantime, your businesses’ non-compliance will give rise to significant legal liability. The law is in an early stage of development; and the online industry is just beginning to deliver the guidance, advice, tools, knowledge, and expertise to make compliance affordable for just about every web business. It’s fair to say there has been a sort of grace period while technology and expertise catches up, and the cost of compliance goes down. It may take you months to go through the life cycle development process and get your website compliant. In the meantime, let the public (and ADA lawyers) know about your commitment by appropriately announcing on your website that you are working towards accommodating the disabled.

The information in this article is not intended to be legal advice. Always consult your attorney when faced with legal issues.

John Dozier is president of Dozier Internet Law, PC, a law firm representing small and mid-sized online businesses. He can be reached at jwd@cybertriallawyer.com, or online at Cybertriallawyer.com.

John W. Dozier, Jr.

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Comments ( 3 )

  1. Legacy User February 28, 2008 Reply

    The knowledge, tools, and expertise needed to make Websites accessible has been available for years. It took some high profile lawsuits before many retailers started paying attention. It is more difficult to retrofit a Website with accessibility features than it is to design one with accessibility in mind. But, with focused effort and knlowedgeable programmers, it is generally achievable in the short-term.

    It's not just mandatory, it's the right thing to do. Also, improving your site's accessibility not only helps the disabled, but generally makes your Web site more usable by everyone, more standards-compliant, and improves your results in the search engines- among other benefits.

    To learn more, feel free to contact me for a free consultation.

    John Howard,
    Web Accessibility and Adaptive Technology Expert
    john@jghoward.com

    — *John G. Howard*

  2. Legacy User March 4, 2008 Reply

    In this global Internet economy, forcing Internet resellers based in the US to fully comply with US ADA laws could put America ecommerce businesses at a cost disadvantage over the world competition. In a world of ever tightening margins for many products even an extra two or three hours of design time could add to the overall cost of a widget. If a reseller is in Canada or Australia and they are selling a similar product as there American competition to the same Global clientele including Americans are they going to be forced to comply? On the other hand, let say the seller’s office is in Canada and the server resides in the US, which country’s law govern that site? Now, I am not saying that not following the ADA guidelines is bad but the web is not limited to just the US and the US can not make someone operating a business in another country comply to the US ADA laws. If the competition can sell the same widget for less then the American reseller, then the American reseller will surly loose business regardless of who is buying it. We have seen this happen again and again.

    — *Bill*

  3. Legacy User March 6, 2008 Reply

    This really all boils down to smart business. Hundreds of thousands of blind Internet users want entertainment – music, eBooks, etc. Yet, iTunes is one of the most cumbersome programs for the blind to navigate. You have to wonder just how much business iTunes and sites like it lose from the blind who are eager–actually begging–to be able to shop.

    Don't lose site of holiday shopping either. Since it would ultimately be easier for the blind to shop for family and spouses without having to rely on others to drive them to stores, etc., there is a market to be tapped here.

    Practical Ecommerce has been running some articles by a blind Internet user covering some of these topics, and many are simple, inexpensive implementations. It's not difficult to follow the rule that if a blind user can't shop your site, there are others who simply will not find your products.

    — *Pamela Hazelton*