What do Beyonce, Domino’s Pizza and the Avanti Hotel have in common? They have all recently been targets for lawsuits over the ADA compliance of their websites. With the rise in eCommerce, eLearning, online reservations, job postings, and web banking, advocates for the disabled understandably argue that websites need to be as accessible as brick-and-mortar stores and schools are required to be. These types of accessibility lawsuits are initiated by people with varying disabilities who claim they were unable to use the websites because it was not ADA compliant.
Although the American with Disabilities Act itself does not mention websites (it was written in 1990, before the evolution of digital) the courts have determined that Title III of the ADA applies to websites. And ignorance of the mandates isn’t an acceptable excuse. In order for websites, online content and interfaces to be ADA compliant, they must be accessible.
It seems like this would be a pretty straightforward challenge to solve, but unfortunately, it’s more complicated than adding an accessibility statement to your legal disclaimers.
The threat of a lawsuit is real
ADA-compliance related lawsuits for websites are on the rise, growing over 90% from 2017 to 2018. According to the Los Angeles Times, lawsuits alleging website accessibility violations totaled 1,053 in the first six months of 2018, a number that is projected to rise to over 2,000 by year’s end. Nowadays, plaintiffs’ lawyers are filing ADA lawsuits as fast as they can. Some blame the administration’s decision to stop drafting rules for website ADA compliance, but whatever the cause, the threat of a lawsuit is not limited to big business and celebrities.
Suits are being brought against businesses of all sizes, including small and privately-owned businesses. Many of these businesses may not have the legal and financial resources to mount an effective defense. The unfortunate outcome is the business is forced to settle, and with amounts ranging from $5,000 to over $50,000 plus legal fees, this could be devastating for many companies.
So, what exactly is website accessibility?
The short answer is that anyone, regardless of their cognitive skills, physical needs and capabilities should be able to understand, navigate and interact with the content provided on the website or related digital tools.
The long answer is that the website must comply with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) as defined by the WC3 Web Accessibility Initiative. This is a lengthy document with guidelines that provide recommendations for making web content more accessible to all. But it all boils down to 4 main focus areas:
WCAG Guideline Focus Areas
The website content must be Perceivable, meaning that users can easily identify content and interface elements by means of their senses such as sight and sound.
The website must be Operable so that users can successfully use controls, buttons, navigation and other interactive elements whether by clicking, swiping or voice-control.
The content should be Understandable, legible and presented to avoid mistakes. This includes content readability and operation in predictable ways.
The website must be Robust, meaning built to maximize compatibility with current and future user agents, browsers and assistive technologies.
Can a website ever be 100% ADA-compliant?
The short answer is no. ADA compliance isn’t a “pass-fail” test. Rather, it’s a spectrum; a website can be more compliant or less compliant based on how closely it meets the WCAG guidelines. The more compliant a website is, the lower risk there is for the business to be sued.
To be “fully compliant” implies that a website follows the WCAG 2.0 Level AA guidelines perfectly and unambiguously. However, 100% ADA compliance is almost impossible for any business website to achieve because many of the guidelines are ambiguous and complex and there are endless variations in the type and severity of disabilities.
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What can a business do to protect themselves from ADA website lawsuits?
Satisfying all of the WCAG guidelines does not necessarily mean that a website complies 100% with the ADA, but it will improve the website’s accessibility and decrease the risk of litigation.
Here are the steps you should take today to improve your website’s accessibility and reduce your risk.
Audit your website using a tool such as Google Chrome’s WAVE tool and the suite of accessibility checkers available from the WC3 Website Accessibility Initiative.
Don’t wait to get hit with a demand. Be proactive and hire an ADA compliance expert, they can perform compliance scans and work with your developers to execute the needed remediation.
Consult with your legal counsel - you may have to add an accessibility policy page or update disclaimers and other legal content.
Your website developer should repair these common compliance issues first:
Hearing Impaired – All videos and sound bites must have captions or written descriptions. Music is not recommended on business websites, but if present should also have a description.
Visually Impaired – Pictures and images must have description tags and the site’s navigation must be compatible with assistive technology. In addition, fonts must be legible with enough contrast between the font and the background color.
Physically Impaired – site navigation must be possible without a mouse. This can be accomplished using keyboard shortcuts and commands written in the code.
Don’t forget downloads such as PDFs - these must be compliant as well or all the efforts on the site will be wasted. The idea is trying your best to meet as many of the WCAG success criteria as much as possible.
Compliance benefits businesses and users alike!
Take the time and investment needed to make your ADA website compliant. Making your website accessible to everyone is beneficial to your business and to your bottom line. Not only are you complying with the law and reducing your risk of a suit, but your site could become more profitable.
An accessible website is more SEO-optimized, so it can be more easily found, opening up your business to a whole new market and increasing your potential sales. This means new customers to book your trips, buy your products or stay at your hotel. It’s been proven that persons with a disability are a market segment loyal to businesses that make a legitimate effort to provide a positive website experience.
Compliance is not a “set it and forget it” deal
Remember that it is still possible you may be hit with litigation even after your websites have been updated to these guidelines. As your website content grows and new features are added to your site, you may risk additional issues. We recommend you perform regular scans to ensure your site stays up to date and compliant.
It’s also important to show your commitment to remaining compliant. Experts recommend adding an ADA-specific contact form to your website where users can report any accessibility issues they encounter. This opens up communication, mitigates frustration on the user’s side and helps you remedy issues as quickly as possible.
Following these guidelines can save you thousands, open up a new market and ensure that all users can enjoy the “full and equal” use of your website.
Diaz & Cooper has been named top 25 website companies by DesignRush for building effective, responsive and compliant websites. We work closely with ADA compliance experts and lawyers to help you make your website accessible and reduce your risk.
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Image Credits: Man Near Window by Bethany Legg; Hands with Laptop by Headway; Image of Web Code by Ilya Pavlov; Child Using Headphones by Alireza Attari on UnSplash.
Omi Diaz-Cooper – CEO, Speaker
Omi’s passionate about people, marketing strategy and travel. Her eclectic interests led her to pursue a BA in anthropology in addition to a degree in advertising – a field she’s been dedicated to for over 25 years. When she’s not speaking at industry conferences like INBOUND17, she’s jetting off places with lots of history, like Pompeii.