This post is for educational purposes only. It is general information, giving a general understanding of the law, not specific legal advice. Our blog should not be used as a substitute for legal advice from a licensed professional attorney in your country or state.
Note: this post may be a little dry, but it’s definitely less painful than being slapped in the face with a lawsuit. We recommend seeing it out to the end.
So, what is ADA and how does it link to e-commerce?
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a US law that was passed back in 1990, to prevent discrimination and increase disabled persons’ access to public areas. Think everything from schools to retail stores.
Fast forward to January 2018, and ADA regulations have been modernized to acknowledge online content as well. Meet Title III: the part in which websites are now recognized as digital ‘public accommodations’, meaning they, too, must now accommodate those with disabilities.
What does that mean for me and my Shopify store?
If you have a Shopify store that sells to the US, or you’ve plans of building one, it means creating or adjusting your site to meet a certain set of standards. Standards which, in turn, will enable more people to access your store, irrespective of any potential visual or auditory disabilities.
And to get there? You’ll need to consider a few areas. There’s the tech of your Shopify store (such as keyboard check-out requirements) to start with, the design of it (color contrasts, for example), as well as your actual content (think accessibility statements, amongst image and video captions), to name a few.
But why is this stuff so important?
From a moral perspective, there’s really no questions asked. Making your Shopify store accessible is, put simply, the right thing to do. But changes to ADA law mean it’s no longer just a matter of morals.
There are severe legal implications for websites deemed non-compliant to ADA. We’re hearing about a frightening number of brands slammed with lawsuits—including those who’ve self-certified compliance through slippery automation tools (more on these in a sec). And the worst part? US lawyers are feasting on these cases; in fact, they’re ambulance-chasing them. Trust us when we say ADA is really not one to ignore.
Then on top of the obligations, consider this: democratizing your Shopify store opens your doors to a much wider pool of potential customers. And as we know, lots more traffic can mean lots more other great things—awareness, sales, you know the sort we’re talking about. Why wouldn’t you want that for your e-commerce?
In short, ADA compliance = less discrimination + more potential customers - risk of legal action. It’s a no-brainer.
That answers that. Now tell me, where do I start?
For new Shopify builds and store adjustments, the first part’s in the dev work. And while there’s no industry accreditation for ADA compliance within e-commerce, what we do have, are some pretty handy guides. It’s these that must be referred to during build/adjustment to tighten a site towards ADA compliance: the ‘Web Content’s Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.1)’. To talk specifics, there are 12 of them, arranged across 4 key principles:
Each of the 12 has its own set of requirements, known as ‘success criteria’. Websites are tested against these to determine their level of compliance: A, AA, or AAA (with AA broadly deemed acceptable by the courts).
OK, so they’re built with distinct criteria in mind. But how do I know if my site is ADA compliant?
Not by automated testing tools, that’s for certain. Unless you fancy playing with fire.
Put simply, automated tools can give you ‘scores’ and ‘ratings’, but they don’t pick everything up. We’ve seen them fail time after time. And in court, it seems that discussing accessibility through people’s experiences tends to prove more powerful than showing what a tool says.
What we strongly advise, and what’s the safer bet, is to have your website manually audited for ADA compliance. Getting a specialist third party involved to run a thorough, manual audit is your best option.
So then, that’s it? Time to switch off?
Hell, no. In fact, this is exactly where a lot of brands get caught out: the maintenance.
We’ve built you a Shopify store with accessibility guidelines in mind. A manual auditor’s put it through its paces. You’ve even got the affidavit to help evidence ADA compliance in court. Hurrah! But it doesn’t stop there.
What you mustn’t forget, is to keep on top of it. There are a few things you can do:
Make sure any new images and videos are captioned upon uploading Run basic automated tests with each new release Have regular, manual audits of the site for a more thorough check
Sound like a headache?
Don’t let it be. The good news is, even if you have an existing site built before the change in regulations, you’re not doomed.
Adjustments can be made to increase usability and get you closer to compliance. And we can help you with that, we’re not just here to make new websites. So get in touch.
Are you a US brand with a Shopify store, needing to keep on top of recent laws affecting your e-commerce? Our look at the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) might also be of interest.