What is the ADA?

Americans with Disabilities Act

The ADA is a law that protects the civil rights of the disabled and prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in all possible areas of public life, including employment, education, transportation, and all other places, both public and private, that are open to the general public.

It is rational to expect a disabled person to have access and reasonable accommodation and access the same places and things that everyone else enjoys.

It is important to note that ADA regulations now apply to some provided online services via a website or through other digital formats. The DOJ Enforces Web Accessibility.

How does the ADA affect web based businesses?

In 1990, President George H. W. Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. It focused on stopping discrimination on the disabled. The ADA made it illegal to treat people with disabilities unfairly and unequally. The ADA allows anyone with an impairment to receive the same, equal opportunities as everyone else is afforded and to have access to reasonable accommodations.


What is the definition of a disability?

In order to be protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act, an individual must have a disability, defined as a physical or mental impairment that causes substantial limitations on one or more major life activities, to include; employment, education, transportation, and all other public and private places available to the public.  The ADA includes a person who has a history or record of such a physical or mental impairment, or a person that is perceived by others as having such an impairment.

The Americans with Disabilities Act was first established 30 years ago and it did not include websites as a form of Public Accommodation for Title III. It had originally applied only to businesses’ that were located in physical buildings. Section 508 was introduced to include the online presence of businesses’ that also have brick and mortar establishments, government websites and any business that is tied to the government through offerings of its services and/or product sales.

Website accessibility is important here's why

Federal courts in at least the Third, Sixth, Ninth, and 11th circuits have decided to define “places of public accommodation” to actual physical locations, thus a website is not a place of public accommodation. But, these courts elaborate that Title III may nonetheless apply to web technologies if there is a nexus between the services, goods, and privileges they provide and an actual physical place of public accommodation. It is decided that Title III does not cover web-only businesses that lack a physical place of public accommodation.

 Federal courts in at least the First, Second, and Seventh circuits do not limit “places of public accommodation” to actual physical places under Title III of the ADA. Web-only businesses like Amazon and eBay are considered places of public accommodation as per Title III. 


It’s our responsibility, and it is the right thing to do as business owners.

We need to do the right thing even when it isn’t required in order to service our customers, regardless of their individual differences and unique needs. Being aware, considerate and cooperative builds an appreciative and loyal customer base and makes everyone happy.


The evolution of the ADA and the inclusion of access to web-based businesses over time.


1973 - Rehabilitation Act

The discrimination on the basis of disability in programs conducted by federal agencies, in programs receiving financing by the federal government, in federal employment and in the employment of federal contractors was prohibited by The Rehabilitation Act of 1973.


1990 - Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

The Americans with Disabilities Act became law in 1990. The ADA is a civil rights movement law that prohibits the discrimination of individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life, to include; jobs, education, transportation, and all public and private places that are available to the general public. The purpose of the law is to make sure that people with disabilities have the same rights and opportunities as everyone else does. The ADA gives civil rights protections to individuals with disabilities similar to those afforded to individuals on the basis of race, color, sex, national origin, age, and religion. It guarantees equal opportunity for individuals with disabilities in public accommodations, employment, transportation, state and local government services, and telecommunications.



Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act

Congress had amended the Rehabilitation Act to require all Federal agencies to make their electronic information accessible to the disabled and to provide reasonable accommodation in order to make them accessible.


Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act

Section 504 requires organizations that receive federal funding or grants to have accessible online content that take the disabled into consideration.



The DOJ proposed regulations to govern access to websites under the ADA Act and its regulations.



Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Standards
The U.S. Access Board submitted official ICT guidelines update that points to WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) 2.0 Level AA as the compliance standard for all.


2017 - Vision-impaired plaintiff wins the first trial on ADA web accessibility

In June 2017, a federal judge in Florida issued a verdict in favor of a disabled customer who sued a grocery chain, claiming the grocer had violated the Americans With Disabilities Act due to its website not being accessible to the blind and vision-impaired interface users.

Massachusetts Web Compliance

Most states dictate that due to federal funding being dependent upon adherence to Section 508 of the ADA Rehabilitation Act, entities should follow federal regulations. Massachusetts considered both Section 508 and the Americans with Disabilities Act, as well as WCAG 2.0 when deciding how to go about implementing an action plan for web accessibility standards that are unique to the needs of Massachusetts.

Many states (to include Massachusetts) consider ADA compliant web accessibility an essential requirement for all online platforms that are accessible to the public. The unique needs of the state are considered when adapting to the unique needs required by individual agencies that build upon the minimum standards.

Instruction for Website Video Captions

According to Section 3.2 of the Web Accessibility Standards, multimedia presentations must provide readable text/captions. The captions must be controlled by the user and they must adequately describe the visual content and all of the auditory information. A transcription that can be downloaded has to be included for multimedia presentations to enable users who are hearing impaired.

All state agencies are required to audit website content to make sure that all uploaded media implements and follows the state’s standards.

FCC Closed Caption Guidelines

The Web Accessibility Standards are considered to be the minimum requirements and Massachusetts encourages all state agencies to create higher standards for ADA compliance on their websites.