When the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) became law in 1990, the internet was nowhere close to as integrated with daily life as it is now. The original text of ADA Title III, which outlines the Department of Justice’s ADA regulations for businesses and non-profit service providers, thus contains no explicit rules about accessibility requirements for a business’s website and webpages. In recent years, though, the DOJ has interpreted ADA Title III to include websites, leading to the establishment of ADA website accessibility best practices.
Cannabis businesses in particular have numerous incentives to comply with and prioritize ADA website accessibility standards. What does that compliance entail, and why is it specifically important for cannabis businesses?
What is ADA website accessibility?
ADA website accessibility comprises several rules, code standards, design guidelines, and behaviors that businesses should implement on their websites so that people with disabilities can properly navigate their webpages. ADA website accessibility best practices can make website navigation significantly easier for people with disabilities including, but not limited to, visual impairments, cognitive disorders, epilepsy, and mobility impairments.
In 2018, the U.S. Department of Justice affirmed the notion that Title III of the ADA applies to websites. This confirmation came after the number of lawsuits and demand letters pertaining to ADA website accessibility increased by 200 percent between 2017 and 2018. Additionally, in 2019, three times as many legal papers were served as in 2018.
In total, since 2017, more than 150,000 letters regarding ADA website accessibility have been served. The targeted businesses have settled 93 percent of cases outside court for, in some cases, hundreds of thousands of dollars. The other seven percent of businesses have lost their cases in court.
Who needs an ADA accessible website?
In theory, ADA website accessibility is required for all businesses. Since the DOJ has interpreted Title III of the ADA to apply to websites and Title III concerns accessibility in businesses and storefronts, any business’s website must comply with ADA standards. Contrary to some popular beliefs, businesses with fewer than 15 employees are not exempt from ADA compliance – including your cannabis business.
What are some examples of ADA accessibility on websites?
Implementing ADA website accessibility can take ample time and labor, but the most prominent examples of ADA accessibility on websites are fairly straightforward changes. The below adjustments are among the most common methods for achieving ADA website accessibility:
- Text modifications. For visually impaired visitors, increasing the size of your website’s text, adjusting your website text’s color, and using simpler fonts can make your website more accessible. Serif fonts, for example, can be much harder for people with visual impairments to read, as can monochrome text against a color-diverse background. For the latter issue, a quick fix is to ensure that the text has a properly contrasting background highlight (also known as a contrast ratio).
- Animation control. Flashing, flickering, strobing, or blinking lights could trigger seizures in epileptic individuals. People with photosensitive epilepsy may thus be in danger if they see any animations such as .gifs or videos on your website. To make your website ADA accessible, display a content warning or adjust your settings so animations do not auto-play.
- Front-end adjustments. For users with cognitive and learning disabilities such as dyslexia, dyscalculia, attention deficit disorder (ADD), and autism spectrum disorders, understanding certain terminology or phrases on your company’s website may be difficult. Incorporating front-end adjustments, such as an online dictionary that provides visitors with real-time definitions for these terms and phrases, can make your website more accessible and ADA compliant.
- Keyboard adjustment. Website visitors with mobile or motor impairments may have difficulty using a mouse, keyboard, or other hardware associated with computers. Implement keyboard adjustment options into your website so visitors with elbow injuries, arthritis, nerve palsy, Parkinson’s disease, and other motor impairments can navigate your website with ease. Whereas cognitive and learning disability adjustments are front-end, keyboard adjustments for motor-impaired visitors are almost entirely back-end.
Why accessibility is important for cannabis dispensaries
Even if Title III of the ADA weren’t widely interpreted to include websites, ADA web accessibility would be of the utmost importance for cannabis businesses, particularly dispensaries. One glance at the list of conditions that commonplace ADA website accessibility standards address may be enough to demonstrate why website accessibility matters: Many people with these conditions turn to medical cannabis for relief.
Many people with epilepsy, for example, manage the condition with medical cannabis. In many states, medical cannabis programs include Parkinson’s disease among the conditions for which residents can receive medical cannabis cards. The same can be said for glaucoma, as some research has shown that medical cannabis can help with physical and mental glaucoma side effects including eye pain, nausea, anxiety, and depression. The same could be said for CBD retailers whose customers may use their products to manage these conditions.
When people with these conditions visit your cannabis dispensary’s website, you’ll need to ensure that they can properly and safely navigate your webpages. Someone exploring your dispensary’s products need fewer obstacles to access their medicine, including navigating your menu, placing an order for pickup or delivery, or reading your educational material. ADA compliant accessibility adjustments make it easy for these customers and patients to utilize your products and services.
ADA website accessibility is useful for more than practical purposes. By making your website accessible, you demonstrate that your dispensary cares for customers and considers all aspects of their lives.
If your business is an ancillary cannabis company rather than a dispensary, you should prioritize accessibility just as strongly. Just as a dispensary’s ADA accessible website signals care for its customers, so too do healthcare professionals, patient resource and advocacy organizations, and consumption accessory stores such as smoke shops. Not only does making your ancillary cannabis company’s website accessible make it easier for customers to explore your products and services, but it keeps your company free of any potential liability and compliance complaints – or, worse yet, lawsuits.
How to make your cannabis business website ADA accessible
Thankfully, ADA compliance is no longer a difficult task. There are software programs available that do the heavy lifting for you. Most of these programs fall under the umbrella of accessibility services or plugins, and though they streamline accessibility projects, they present additional challenges for business owners.
Accessibility services, for example, can cost tens of thousands of dollars per year, and projects can take weeks to months to complete. Accessibility plugins, though significantly less expensive, do not guarantee ADA compliance and full project turnaround. That’s why, at CannaContent, we’ve partnered with a solution that solves the issues that plugins and services present: accessiBe.
Unlike accessibility services and plugins, accessiBe is completely automated and automatically makes adjustments to any content you add to your website. Using artificial intelligence, accessiBe can make your website fully ADA accessible in at most 48 hours from installation. It also guarantees compliance with ADA Title III as well as other key ADA website accessibility standards such as WCAG 2.1, Section 508, EN 301549, IS 5568, and many more. Every 24 hours, accessiBe will rescan your website to evaluate your ADA compliance and make any necessary adjustments. All your visitors need to do is click the customizable icon on your website to make adjustments. Check it out on CannaContent: click on the “A” icon on any website page to see accessiBe in action.
You won’t have to break your bank to use accessiBe, either. Not only is accessiBe much cheaper than clunky softwares, but CannaContent clients can get 10 percent off their first year of membership. Contact CannaContent to learn more about accessiBe and get started with the best service possible for ensuring your cannabis company’s website is fully accessible.