For businesses, understanding obligations under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) can be challenging. There is no list of covered disabilities, nor does the Act specifically detail all of the accommodations that companies must make to avoid legal consequences.
Given the lack of detailed guidelines, business leaders may wonder, what is ADA compliance?
A Note on the ADA and Language
When discussing business obligations related to disabled workers and consumers, people often refer to “ADA compliance.” However, since the ADA requires “reasonable accommodations,” but does not include all specific guidelines that a business must follow, this term is often inaccurate. Instead, companies can “adhere” to the ADA, sometimes by complying with another measure, such as industry or international best standards or past court decisions.
What are the ADA Requirements for Businesses?
The ADA requires that businesses do not discriminate against disabled employees or consumers. The Act has three titles, the first and third of which apply to businesses, while the second contains regulations for government entities and services and is not within the scope of this article.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) governs this section of the ADA, which mandates that businesses with 15 or more employees must not discriminate against and must provide reasonable accommodations for their disabled workers. Some examples of accommodations include captioning and audio descriptions in training videos.
Because there aren’t specific ADA guidelines for closed captioning, audio description or many other accommodations, ensuring that the work environment is satisfactory might require proactive steps or coming up with creative solutions.
There are also exceptions to adhering, such as if the employer is a small business without the necessary funds to provide extremely costly remodeling to their workspace. However, when it comes to something like audio description or closed captioning, these are relatively standard accommodations.
In the early days of the ADA, concerns often related to accommodations such as ramps or elevators in brick and mortar shops, restaurants, theaters and other businesses. The ADA includes some specific requirements in this context.
Over time, the importance of web access increased. As a result, people unable to use these resources began to test the limits of the ADA by filing lawsuits against companies with websites that excluded the Blind and Deaf communities and others.
The outcome of those lawsuits, including a landmark case that the National Association of the Deaf filed against Netflix and another with Harvard University, confirmed that adhering to the ADA often requires accessibility in virtual environments, including websites.
A Business Accessibility Checklist
While avoiding lawsuits, such as the one faced by grocery store Winn-Dixie, is crucial for businesses, successful corporate leaders will consider that consumers and employees now expect inclusivity and accommodations. Thus, a proactive approach is the best way to avoid litigations and widen a company’s market to a larger pool of potential talent and customers.
Here is a checklist businesses can review to improve their accessibility and inclusivity:
- Review the W3’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG): Many recent ADA cases involve web accessibility. Although there are no specific ADA closed captioning requirements, audio description requirements or other website accommodations, the WCAG offers guidelines for closed captions, live captions, audio description, keyboard accessibility and many other features. Companies whose websites comply with international WCAG standards can be confident that they adhere to the ADA.
- Talk to Employees: Many ADA lawsuits stem from employers who refuse to listen or consider accommodations. Open communication can prevent later disputes.
- Take Feedback from Consumers: Consumers may point out missing accommodations. Listening to feedback and complaints can help a company make changes before they lead to a lawsuit. Making necessary changes will also help these brands to build loyalty among consumers who feel heard and understood once changes are implemented.
- Train Employees: Employees may need to play a role in offering accommodations. If a shop cannot make all items accessible to someone in a wheelchair, employees should know to offer assistance in such circumstances.
- Review Infrastructure: Adding ramps or other features to make a business more accessible will help avoid legal complications and offer many consumers a better experience. The ADA does address construction standards and measurements needed to meet legal obligations.
- Proactively Offer Standard Accommodations: Even if there aren’t detailed ADA requirements for closed captioning, offering captions and audio descriptions can help improve access while accommodating millions of people who require these features. Past litigation also established these as reasonable accommodations and businesses should think of them as requirements.
The public attitude toward discrimination, accessibility and inclusivity is more progressive than ever. Companies that lack accommodations can face PR nightmares, lose customers and face litigation. However, they also miss opportunities to reach more people and improve their corporate image.
Verbit offers AI-powered captioning and transcription services that help businesses adhere to the ADA. To learn more about how our live captioning, descriptive audio and other technological solutions can improve your company’s accessibility by contacting us.