Ensure ADA Website Compliance and Avoid Lawsuits

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 prohibits discrimination based on disability. This means ensuring that everyone has reasonable access to all areas of public life. Although the ADA doesn’t explicitly mention the internet, the federal government, and several recent court cases, has taken the position that Title III of the ADA covers access to websites of public accommodations, including service and rental establishments, retail stores, educational institutions and recreational facilities.  With terms like “other sales establishments” included, it is likely that case could be made that every commercial establishment falls under website ADA requirements.  In 2018 alone, there were 2,285 website ADA compliance lawsuits filed in the US.

4 Components of ADA Compliance for Websites

Although the DOJ has yet to issue regulations regarding internet accessibility obligations of the private sector, guidance can be obtained from various sources including the W3C Web Accessibility Initiative and Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG-2).  W3C lists four major components of ADA compliance for websites:

  1. Information and user interface components must be presentable to users in ways they can perceive. This ensures that content is available to view in multiple forms and is easy to see or hear regardless of a disability.
  2. User interface components and navigation must be operable. This ensures easy website navigation without running into limited functionality or time limits.
  3. Information and the operation of user interface must be understandable. This ensures all webpages are readable, predictable and have the capability to correct user mistakes.
  4. Content must be robust enough that it can be interpreted reliably by a wide variety of user agents, including assistive technologies. This ensures the compatibility a website has with technologies someone may use to assist them.

Guidance for ADA Compliance

Currently, ADA website compliance is only mandatory for government-managed websites. However, the Department of Justice, as well as several recent court cases, has made clear that private “establishments of public accommodation” also fall within ADA website boundaries.  A rapid increase in ADA website compliance lawsuits against private employers makes clear that all commercial businesses should be focusing on website accessibility.  Under the present lack of rules or regulations from the DOJ on this issue, frivolous lawsuits will likely skyrocket in the private sector.  Businesses should be doing their best to make sure their websites are also ADA compliant. The ADA has created suggestions for compliance; however, those suggestions don’t make them law.

For additional guidance, there are several websites that offer pass or fail type questionnaires employers can use to test whether their website meets the ADA’s suggestions for compliance.

As a temporary measure until greater regulatory guidance is offered, consider adding an accessibility tool like USERWAY to your website (see accessibility tool icon in the upper left-hand corner of the HorstInsurance.com website).  A tool like USERWAY will certainly provide clear evidence to a website visitor that the website owner has taken steps to ensure that its website is accessible to a range of users with disabilities.

What to Do if Someone Threatens Your Business with an ADA Lawsuit

The absence of laws enforcing ADA compliance for websites of public accommodations hasn’t prevented people from filing lawsuits against companies that don’t meet the suggested guidelines. Businesses in health care, government and education are the most common targets, but private sector lawsuits are gaining traction. Attorneys looking for easy money typically target small businesses’ websites by offering a low settlement fee.

If your business is targeted by an ADA website compliance grievance, consider taking the following steps in response:

  1. Review the grievance for credibility. A lawsuit may likely begin by citing “violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act, Title 42 U.S.C. 12101 and 12181.” It may also include an inexpensive settlement option—a prime indicator that the lawsuit has no legs to stand on and is likely a scam.
  2. Contact your insurance broker. Some lawsuits alleging failure to meet ADA website guidelines may trigger certain insurance coverage in limited circumstances.
  3. Consult a lawyer. Doing so will help determine the credibility of the threat and stop future threats to your business.
  4. Respond to the plaintiff. Ask your attorney to draft something explaining that you’ve reviewed their grievance and consulted a lawyer. Realizing that you’ve sought legal help may scare away anyone trying to file a lawsuit.
  5. Update your website. Do this regardless of whether there is a legal need. If your site is easily accessible by people with disabilities, you may see beneficial returns from those users.

Why Businesses Should Consider Website Accessibility

Even without the legal obligation to do so, building accessible features into websites is a good business practice. Accessibility makes websites easier to use for everyone, not just users with disabilities, and may attract more customers to your website. Implementing accessibility features isn’t a difficult task for web designers and is not likely to alter the appearance and layout of your website.

Assisted technologies used by people with disabilities are on the rise. Stay ahead of the times—don’t make yourself inaccessible to potential visitors by hiding behind a website they cannot use.