Before opening up a physical establishment, local and chain restaurant owners will need to familiarize themselves with the legislation they need to abide by in order to operate legally.
This means that you should already have a head start on other industries when it comes to understand what the Americans With Disabilities Act, otherwise known as the ADA, is.
If you need a little refresher, the ADA is an anti-discrimination regulation that prevents businesses from discriminating against disabled people by making it a law that they should be provided with the same opportunities as non-disabled Americans.
You might be familiar with your abidance of this legislation by implementing wheelchair ramps in your physical establishment, but did you know this regulation now applies to your restaurant website, too?
After lots of confusion that made it difficult for people to understand their responsibility in becoming ADA compliant on their website, the legislators brought in Title III in 2010.
This part of the legislation regulates businesses, and sets out the guidelines businesses must follow in order to become ADA compliant on their websites.
Since this legislation, lawsuits filed under Title III have continued to increase, with around 814 public lawsuits filed in 2017 alone.
Records show that these numbers are continuing to rise throughout every industry, including the restaurant industry, so you must do what it takes to make your website ADA compliant as soon as possible or risk a potentially business ruining fine.
How This Applies To Websites
With over 55 million people having a disability in the US, it’s inevitable that a large proportion of those will have access to the internet.
This means that having laws in place to make sure that they have the same access as everyone else is extremely important.
With that being said, understanding what you need to do as a restaurant owner isn’t always straight forward.
Thankfully, there are WCAG 2.0 guidelines that you can use to see whether or not you are already ADA compliant, and what you can do to change this if you aren’t.
The guidelines above can be broken down into four key principles, which we’re going to explain in more detail to show you how they relate to your restaurant’s online website below.
This is all about making sure that the information and user interface components are presentable to a user in a way that they can understand.
In terms of a restaurant business, this means making sure that images of your food have alt attributes for people with visual impairments, or including captions on videos for those who are hard of hearing. Including an audio option for people with visual impairments may also be a good idea for those who don’t use screen reader technology, but this is not a legal requirement.
This part of the guidelines takes directly from Title III of the ADA, which dictates that your website must be fully accessible from a keyboard. This is because some people with visual impairments or poor motor control may have difficulty using a mouse.
On your restaurant website, this might include making sure that people can go from your homepage to your booking form to your menu completely with the use of their keyboard. It’s also about making sure that people can fully complete online forms with a keyboard, so make sure you can switch between the different fields without the use of a mouse.
Meeting the understandable part of these guidelines involves making sure that text is readable and understandable. This means that language should be easily deciphered, and that there are definitions for unfamiliar, jargon terms.
On your restaurant website, you may need to make adaptations for certain menu items, including a way to find definitions for those who aren’t familiar with a certain dish on your website. This may give your website a better reputation from non-disabled people, too, especially if your dishes are foreign or unpopular in America. Not sure where to start? Here’s a list of companies that do ADA compliance audits.
Robust is all about making sure that your website is compatible with current and future technology agencies, including assistive technologies like screen readers. This often includes making sure that your HTML is readable by this technology, so it might be worth hiring a professional to audit your current coding setup and recommend changes to meet ADA requirements if any are necessary.
The Harm In Not Being ADA Compliant In The Restaurant Industry
Most people won’t worry themselves with ADA compliance until they have been caught and face legal action because they convince themselves it won’t happen to them.
The truth is, with awareness about the ADA and how this applies to online websites only increasing, your chances of being caught as a public-facing business are extremely high.
In fact, some companies are already facing the consequences of their lax attitude towards ADA compliance.
One such company is Domino’s. In January 2019, judges on the Ninth Circuit found the Domino’s website and mobile app were subject to the ADA because the restaurant was a place of public accommodation. Attempts to challenge this notion were rejected, and the case has now been transferred to a lower court for further proceedings.
Depending on the outcome, Domino’s could be facing a serious fine (up to $75000 for a first offense) in addition to having to spend additional money on bringing their current website and mobile app up to the standard required by the ADA.
Domino’s is a large company, but the truth is, this can happen to smaller companies, too. Just imagine the impact on your restaurant—and business—if you were to have to pay out $75,000 for changes that are relatively easy to make in the first place? Is it worth it?
As you can see, making sure that your restaurant’s website is ADA compliant in accordance with website accessibility legislation is just as important as making your physical establishment accessible.
With some of the changes being as small as including captions on your videos or providing descriptive alt attributes, is it really something you want to avoid until you’re caught out?
Author bio: Codrin Arsene is the CEO of Digital Authority Partners, a Chicago digital agency