Do you realize that your website could be issued an ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) litigation for non-compliance?

You read that right. Not only your brick and mortar space, but your website should comply with the ADA’s disability guidelines. Not many people know about it until they have a lawsuit to deal with. If you are not involved in an ADA compliance website lawsuit situation yet, then you might be able to avoid it altogether.

Here’s an outline of what this article covers:

  • What is ADA Compliance?
  • Is ADA Compliance mandatory for websites?
  • What are the effects of compliance (and non-compliance) for your business?

A Closer Look at the ADA:

The ADA was passed into law by President George H.W. Bush on January 1st, 2009. The original intention of the act when it was passed into law about three decades ago was to guard against the discrimination of people with disabilities. 

The ADA Act applies to your business if:

  1. Your business benefits the public
  2. You are a private employer with 15 or more employees, or
  3. You are a local, state, or government agency

At the heart of ADA is providing a similar experience to all people – including (and especially) people with disabilities.

Title III of the Act mandated the removal of physical barriers that hindered the inclusion of people with disabilities in all places of public accommodation. 

place of public accommodation is a business open to the public that falls into one of the 12 categories listed in the ADA. A few of these categories include restaurants, shopping centers, schools, hospitals, and recreation facilities.

The million-dollar question for a long time is whether or not a website passes a “place of public accommodation”. When this law passed in the 90s, the internet was still in its infancy stage. The internet was not part of our daily life as it has become now. As such, the language used in the law did was not clear on whether or not the ADA included website accessibility. 

The Litigation Problems

There are no clear standards guiding website accessibility. However, that hasn’t stopped many businesses from being dragged into lawsuits. More than a few of these businesses have been required to pay thousands of dollars in settlement to plaintiffs in violation of Title III of the ADA.

The cases of ADA lawsuits continue to rise. According to Seyfarth ADA Title III News & Insights Blog, there was a 180% in the number of ADA litigation cases from 2017 to 2018. And those numbers are not likely to slow down soon.

It seems some have taken advantage of this loophole to enrich themselves. It is believed that for some plaintiffs involved in these ligations, the deal for them is not about expanding access. It is about having a few more bucks in the bank — the thousands of number cases of accessibility-related litigations in the US.

You have to take action to guard your business against the setback that could come with a significant lawsuit. 

Not only will this cost you time and money, but mental and emotional stress. It could even damage your brand reputation. If not handled cautiously, it could cost you your business.

The lawsuits are based on two premises:

  1. A company website passes as a place of public accommodation. 
  2. The website is discriminatory (as far as accessibility goes), in that it does not provide access to people with disabilities.

For example, does your website have speech reading software incorporated in its code for the visually impaired? If your answer is no, then you could soon have an ADA litigation situation.

For some, February 2018 was a time to breathe a sigh of relief, as that was when Congress passed the ADA Education and Reform Act. The reform was outlined by Representative Ted Poe who wrote the bill. This change makes it a little more difficult for a lawsuit to be slapped against a business.

It also provides affected entities a 120 days window after they have been addressed a written notice. Sixty days to acknowledge the complaint and describe their plans to fix the alleged issues. Then 60 more days to fix the problem or at least prove that they were making substantial progress.

What is an ADA Compliant Website?

The US Department of Justice (DOJ) made it quite clear that websites need to be accessible to people with disabilities. The challenge; however, is that there are still no legal standards guiding what is and what isn’t an ADA compliant website.

One of the famous cases of ADA lawsuits involved the University of California Berkeley 2016. The DOJ ruled against UC Berkeley, stating that it had violated the ADA Act. Their video content did not include captions for hearing-impaired visitors. Since hearing-impaired visitors did not have access to the video content, it was considered discriminatory against persons with disabilities.

In this case, as well as a few others, the DOJ referred to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) as a decent benchmark for guiding accessibility. As it stands today, WCAG seems to be the most reliable guideline for evaluating website accessibility. WCAG will likely continue to serve as the gold standard for ADA compliance until the United States Congress gives more clarity on the matter.

Understanding the WCAG: Is your website ADA Compliant?

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) is an initiative of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). They are the closest guidelines we have to a legal set of standards in measuring website accessibility.

It’s essential to keep in mind though that WCAG is not law. Just because your website conforms to the WCAG doesn’t automatically mean that you are ADA compliant.

Nonetheless, the WCAG series of guidelines provide a useful framework in working towards website accessibility for all. Even courts have come to rely on it. The WCAG 2.0 outlines four principles for website accessible design. Stating that websites must be:

  • Perceivable 
  • Operable
  • Understandable
  • Robust

People with disabilities should be factored in the design and content creation of your website. These disabilities include but are not limited to, low vision and blindness, hearing loss and deafness, cognitive limitations, limitations to movement, and photosensitivity.

Where do we go from here?

The lack of explicit clarity around the legal definition of an ADA compliant website still exists. Regardless, your business or agency should strive to make your website accessible to as many types of people with disabilities as possible. Not only does this protect you from the possibilities of a lawsuit, but it is also good business practice.

How so? For one thing, you open up your business to a more extensive potential customer base: over 40 million more Americans. According to the CDC, One in 4 U.S. adults – 61 million Americans – have a disability that impacts major life activities.

Furthermore, the practices involved in making websites accessible should be part of your website SEO practice. Consider general accessibility in your website design because it is the right thing to do. 

For website owners, the biggest challenge involved in working towards compliance is the cost to make a website ADA compliant. If your website is not ADA compliant, the potential cost you would have to pay from the lawsuit is not worth it. It could cost from a few hundred to tens of thousands of dollars depending on the complexity of the website. 

There are many benefits to have an ADA compliant website such as increased brand reputation, brand loyalty, and client referrals. Consider the alternative though. If you don’t make your website compliant and filed a lawsuit, you will spend more money than you hoped to save.

If you haven’t already, you should have your website checked for accessibility and make plans to ensure that it does become “accessible”.

Time for a Recap

An ADA compliant website is one that passes a set of web accessibility standards. It considers the inclusion of people with disabilities in its content creation. Just remember: the benefits of being compliant are worth the effort.

Is ADA compliance mandatory for business?

Yes, it is! Your website could be at the risk of litigation if it is not ADA compliant.

If you need to check your website for ADA compliance, plan appropriately towards making it compliant by getting in touch with us. Our dedicated team at Search Engine Projects would be happy to walk you through the process.