What Business Leaders With Mobile Apps Need to Know about the ADA

By: Sarah Roberts



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42% of small businesses reported using mobile applications to connect and engage with their consumers. Another 30% said they planned on developing apps in the near future. As more companies small and large launch apps, app accessibility is becoming a hot topic.

Businesses that develop mobile apps need to consider whether they are taking the necessary steps to reach audiences effectively, including providing access to people with disabilities. While engaging the maximum number of consumers should be incentive enough, potential legal pitfalls related to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) are another reason to consider mobile app accessibility measures.

Understanding how the ADA might apply to mobile apps can be challenging. However, by taking proactive steps to ensure inclusivity, companies can protect themselves and avoid alienating potential customers.

The ADA and Mobile Accessibility

Looking to the text of the ADA itself for guidance on mobile app accessibility will not offer answers. The ADA does not mention website accessibility because the law dates back to before the Internet went public and long before smartphones became ubiquitous throughout the country. When George H.W. Bush signed the Act in 1990, no one imagined that 31 years later, everyone from toddlers to seniors would be using smartphone applications for entertainment, shopping, connecting with family or ordering prescriptions.

The lack of specific online regulations in the ADA will not protect businesses from consequences for creating and promoting inaccessible technology. In the 9th circuit appellate case Robles v. Dominos Pizza, LLC, the court found that Dominos violated the ADA by creating a website and application that neglected to offer screen reader technology. The plaintiff, who is Blind, could not use the company’s website or app to place an order. The court decided that online content, including an app, is a place of public accommodation for the purposes of the law.

Without clear statutory guidance regarding website accessibility, businesses need to actively ensure their content meets or exceeds industry standards, especially as the number of web access-related ADA cases continues to grow.

International Accessibility Considerations for Businesses

While statutory laws in the US lack specific guidance for mobile accessibility, the European Accessibility Act (EAA) does lay out requirements for online content and mobile apps within the EU. The law applies to essential mobile products and services, including:

– E-commerce
– Banking
– Telephone services
– Smartphones
– E-books
– Transportation services

By June 2022, member states need to incorporate the statute into their national laws. If a company sells an app related to an included category through any online app store in an EU country, the EAA will apply.

The highly respected World Wide Web Consortium’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) influenced the EAA. The UK also enacted legislation requiring that its public sector create online content that complies with WCAG 2.1. International corporations will need to determine which legislation applies to them.

Although efforts to incorporate WCAG 2.1 into US law have been unsuccessful, using the Guidelines can help protect a business from ADA complaints by ensuring mobile apps and websites meet international accessibility standards.
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Steps to Make Mobile Apps More Inclusive

Corporations can start creating accessible apps by offering some standard services that many people with disabilities use online. Here are a few standard accommodations that apps should include.

Captions: About 11 million people in the US are Deaf or hard of hearing. These individuals frequently rely on captions to consume audio and visual content. Software like Verbit’s use AI to generate captions and then use human transcribers to ensure accuracy. It is important to note that inaccurate captions can also lead to legal complications and prevent access.

Audio description: Nationally, there are around one million Blind people and millions more with vision impairment. Apps that include audio description services offer equitable access to these consumers.

Careful Color Selection: Color blindness impacts around 5-10 percent of Americans. When choosing colors for an app, designers should ensure they do not conflict and make it impossible for people with color blindness to interpret.

Apps should also move from horizontal to vertical based on how a user holds a mobile device and avoid flashing lights that could induce seizures. Even consent forms and security measures like CAPTCHAS need to be designed for all users to ensure equitable access. The process is really about developing content that is easy to use and navigate for people with disabilities and any other customers.

Verbit offers accessibility solutions, including captioning, transcription, audio description and other services that help businesses meet online web accessibility best practices. For more information about how these tools can help your company adhere to the ADA and reach a wider audience, contact Verbit.