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Does your website or app need to be handicapped-accessible?

Recently, the U.S. Supreme Court turned back a case involving Title III of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), which helps ensure that people with disabilities are given access to businesses and the market. The high court left in place a ruling by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals that the ADA requires businesses to make their websites and mobile apps accessible to people with disabilities.

That means the Ninth Circuit ruling is still in effect. And, while it doesn’t apply directly to Georgia, leaving that ruling in effect gives the impression that the Supreme Court agrees with it.

In reality, there are numerous reasons why the Supreme Court chooses to leave lower courts’ rulings in place. Sometimes, it does so simply because it doesn’t have the time to hear the issue in the current term. It doesn’t necessarily mean the court believes the lower court ruled on the issue correctly.

Still, businesses would be wise to take heed. There are other good reasons to suppose that the ADA applies to websites and mobile apps. For one, the general idea behind Title III is to provide access, and that wouldn’t mean much these days if the internet weren’t included. For another, the ADA specifically applies to communications.

That said, the ADA, which was passed in 1990, doesn’t specifically address the internet. Moreover, the Department of Justice, which enforces this part of the ADA, hasn’t promulgated any regulations about website or app accessibility.

What standard would even apply?

Since the ADA doesn’t specifically address the question of internet advertising and apps, and since the Justice Department hasn’t issued any regulations, it’s unclear what accessibility standards would apply. Even the most accessibility-minded business might hesitate before trying to comply when there’s no set standard for compliance.

The good news is that there are industry-standard accessibility guidelines available. The first web content accessibility guidelines were created in 1999 by the World Wide Web Consortium, and they were updated just last year. However, these guidelines are quite technical and there is no obvious legal obligation for website and app publishers to use them.

Still, the arguments are pretty strong that the ADA requires some kind degree of accessibility. While that wouldn’t obligate a business to comply with the entire suite of web content accessibility guidelines, it might require a serious attempt to address common accessibility problems for major groups, such as people with vision problems, the deaf and hard of hearing, and people who need to use keyboards instead of mice.

If your business needs advice on how to comply with the ADA online, contact an attorney familiar with high-tech and internet law.