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Self-Storage and the ADA: Understanding the Impact on Your Website and Other Digital Assets

The Americans With Disabilities Act has been around since 1990, but the way it applies to digital accessibility is sharpening in focus. Learn how it impacts your self-storage website and other digital assets, and get insight on being in compliance.

Martin Goldfinger

July 12, 2023

4 Min Read
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Enacted in 1990, the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) is a federal law that applies to all businesses, including self-storage facilities. As interpreted by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and courts nationwide, the ADA requires a business operator to provide equal access to their goods and services for all individuals, including those with disabilities.

What you may not realize is the ADA doesn’t only apply to your physical property. It also impacts your digital assets, such as your website, mobile app or any other online-reservation system. These must all be designed and built in a way that ensures they are accessible and usable to everyone. As self-storage operators increase their reliance on digital platforms to attract and retain customers, this issue becomes increasingly relevant.

In fact, the importance of the ADA on digital accessibility can be seen in the growing number of lawsuits that claim a lack of web usability for people with disabilities constitutes discrimination. Dealing with this sort of litigation can be time-consuming and expensive, involving costs for attorney’s fees (yours and the plaintiff’s) and other items. As a self-storage operator, you face added legal risk, with the prospect of being sued multiple times by different claimants, not only within your own state but also jurisdictions outside of those where you have physical locations.

Formal Guidance

On March 18, 2022, the DOJ issued “Guidance on Web Accessibility and the ADA,” which focuses on web compliance to allow visually impaired users to use a business website. (See ada.gov/resources for more information.) The guidelines explain why website accessibility matters:

Inaccessible web content means that people with disabilities are denied equal access to information. An inaccessible website can exclude people just as much as steps at an entrance to a physical location. Ensuring web accessibility for people with disabilities is a priority for the Department of Justice. In recent years, a multitude of services have moved online, and people rely on websites like never before for all aspects of daily living. For example, accessing voting information, finding up-to-date health and safety resources, and looking up mass transit schedules and fare information increasingly depend on having access to websites.

Though the DOJ doesn’t provide specific regulations to follow, it has outlined guidance through its Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) as well as Section 508 Standards from the Rehabilitation Act, which are used by the federal government for its own websites.

Since self-storage is a physical business, it’s possible the courts will include its facilities within the umbrella of entities that are required to comply with WCAG, particularly in relation to customers who are visually impaired. In a larger context, this essentially means you’re responsible for ensuring your website and other digital assets are accessible to those with visual, auditory and motor impairments.

How to Comply

There are several steps you can take to help safeguard your self-storage business against potential lawsuits. These will help ensure your digital assets are accessible to disabled individuals and in compliance with the ADA.

1. Hire an accessibility specialist to audit of your digital assets. This should identify any barriers to usability. This person will also be able to recommend improvements.

2. Make use of accessibility software and tools. There are several technologies that can help ensure your digital assets are accessible, such as screen readers, alternative-text tools and accessibility-testing software.

3. Regularly test and monitor your digital assets for compliance. This can be done through manual testing as well as automated tools.

4. Provide training and support. Your employees need to know how to create, use and maintain digital assets in a manner that ensures accessibility. Teach them best practices as well as how to use any related software and other tools.

5. Stay informed. The ADA is dynamic and evolving, so you must stay informed about any changes that could impact your physical and digital self-storage assets. Regularly read industry news, attend relevant webinars and training, and seek the advice of legal and accessibility experts.

The ADA is a critical law that’s growing in importance for self-storage companies, and the interpretation of its application to digital accessibility is significant. In addition to potential lawsuits, DOJ-issued civil penalties can reach up to $55,000 for a first violation and rise to $110,000 for subsequent infractions. By taking the above steps, you can ensure that your assets are accessible and usable for all customers, regardless of their ability.

Martin Goldfinger is accessibility specialist and partnership manager for UserWay.org, a Wilmington, Delaware-based company that specializes in digital-accessibility solutions. In addition to technical expertise, he has strong project-management skills and uses a collaborative approach when working with clients and stakeholders to meet accessibility requirements as well as to create more inclusive and user-friendly digital experiences. To reach him, email [email protected].

Scott I. Zucker is a founding partner in the Atlanta law firm of Weissmann Zucker Euster Morochnik & Garber P.C. Practicing law since 1987, he represents self-storage owners and managers on legal matters including property development, facility construction, lease preparation, employment policies and tenant-claims defense. To reach him, email [email protected].

About the Author(s)

Martin Goldfinger

Partnership Manager, UserWay.org

Martin Goldfinger is accessibility specialist and partnership manager for UserWay.org, a Wilmington, Delaware-based company that specializes in digital-accessibility solutions. In addition to technical expertise, he has strong project-management skills and uses a collaborative approach when working with clients and stakeholders to meet accessibility requirements as well as to create more inclusive and user-friendly digital experiences. To reach him, email [email protected].

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