ADA website lawsuits are up as businesses lose in court

There are compliance guidelines that companies can follow in order to minimize litigation risk

Web accessibility graphic
Travis Buck
TRAVIS BUCK NW Media Collective

What do Beyoncé, Netflix and Dominos all have in common? They have all been sued for their non-ADA compliant websites. In other words, blind, deaf and mobility-challenged people couldn’t order a pizza, binge-watch their favorite shows or join the “beyhive” online – and they’re taking offenders to court.

These three high-profile cases are just the tip of the lawsuit iceberg. In fact, the number of website accessibility lawsuits is increasing and shows no signs of slowing.

Although government regulation around this topic remains murky, there are guidelines to follow if you want to minimize your litigation risk.

ADA Lawsuits

ADA lawsuits affect all businesses and all industries, no matter the size.

Usable, an organization working to improve web accessibility, reported 2285 ADA lawsuits in 2018, a 181% increase over the previous year. Seyfarth, an accessibility law resource, expects ADA lawsuits in 2019 to exceed 2018.

With online activity continuing to grow, and one in five Americans reporting a disability, it’s no surprise that ADA lawsuits are on the rise. Recent court rulings against major corporations will likely galvanize the already upward trend.

Domino’s Accessibility Lawsuit

In October 2019, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected Domino’s petition to avoid a lawsuit by a blind man who accused the company of discrimination after he was unable to order food on Domino’s website and mobile app despite using screen-reading software. As a result, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision to rule in favor of a blind man was upheld.

Why should businesses care about these recent court decisions?

First, they are major wins for disability advocates. Second, it sets a precedent. If the highest court in the U.S. appears to support applying ADA to online platforms, more lawsuits (and rulings in favor of disabled plaintiffs) are likely to follow. All businesses that have websites are at risk of an ADA lawsuit.

What is ADA?

Signed into law in 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination and guarantees that people with disabilities have the same opportunities as everyone else to participate in everyday life. Organizations and businesses follow these regulations, which can cover anything from public bathrooms size to whether or not your business needs a wheelchair ramp.

Although there aren’t federal guidelines or standards yet, ADA regulation extends to websites across the country.

Laws and enforcement vary state to state. This makes compliancy very confusing for businesses. However, most states follow the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) “Web Content Accessibility Guidelines” 2.1 (WCAG 2.1) or Section 508 in the ADA.

What is an ADA compliant website?

ADA compliant websites are accessible to people with a range of abilities.
In general, your website should:

  • Be compatible with assistive technologies like screen readers for blind people.
  • Include colors, animations, and fonts for people with colorblindness and minor visual impairments.
  • Allow people to easily navigate through your website with only a keyboard.
  • Be free of content that causes seizures or physical reactions.

How to check if a website is ADA compliant

To ensure that your website complies with ADA and WCAG standards, a combination of automated and manual testing is best.

Automatic tests check your website’s code to make sure things like alt text (descriptions of images) are present site-wide.

Manual audits review your website’s design elements like the color contrast ratio of text on top of backgrounds.

How to make a website ADA compliant

W3C has a list of tools that will help you get started if you’re tech-savvy. You can also run your own accessibility test using Wave.

If you’re not a web expert, reach out to a web developer familiar with ADA standards. They should be able to bring your website into compliance with the following standards:

  • WCAG 2.1 at the AA level
  • The ADA, Section 508
  • EN 301549

A website compliant with all of the above meets the highest accessibility standards, both nationally and internationally. However, meeting these standards doesn’t mean you’re lawsuit proof. Remember, the laws aren’t clearly defined yet, and there are a lot of gray areas. But compliance with these guidelines could help your defense in case you fall prey to an accessibility lawsuit.

The process for making a website ADA compliant is straightforward. The larger the site, the more it will cost. To bring a simple 10-page website into compliance, for example, costs about $900.

Making your website ADA compliant isn’t cheap, but it sure beats spending tens of thousands of dollars on a lawsuit. Plus, ensuring people of all abilities can use and enjoy your website is just the right thing to do.

Travis Buck is the co-founder and CTO of NW Media Collective, a full-service digital agency helping websites become ADA compliant. To learn more, visit https://northwestmediacollective.com/website-ada-compliance/.

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