The worldwide web was created to make life better for everyone. Unfortunately, some digital accessibility issues exclude millions of people from this spectrum of the economy. Whether this is deliberate discrimination or negligence is a discussion for another day. The point is that when your company’s website is not conforming to web content accessibility guidelines (WCAG), you might be at risk of ADA compliance lawsuits. Perhaps, this is something you want to avoid. In the business sense of it, dealing with your site accessibility issues is cheaper than an ADA website compliance lawsuit. It doesn’t matter whether you are running a brick-and-mortar business or not. Just like the future itself, dealing with website accessibility lawsuits is unpredictable. And that’s why you shouldn’t ignore it. But before we move into how to avoid them, let me highlight the core basics first.
The term ADA stands for the Americans With Disabilities Act. Established in 2010, ADA is a legal act created to prevent discrimination against people with disabilities and to ensure equal access to web content, products, services, and opportunities that unfold in the new digital economy. Bearing in mind that over 60 million American adults live with some form of disability, this is an important act that promotes equal opportunity for all.
One prominent area of focus is the plight of visually impaired people. Even though a screen reader can be used by some of these people, many websites and mobile apps are still not accessible in accordance with the law. In other words, making your websites accessible is no longer a matter of business concern. It is part of the civil rights of all disabled people in the United States.
Though the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) was established by the U.S Department of Justice, many state courts support its content. That’s why it’s easy to find website accessibility litigation to be a common occurrence within state courts and the court of appeals.
The Rise of ADA Compliance Lawsuits
Every year, millions of people are building new websites for their businesses. But the unfortunate thing is that the majority of these websites still have some digital accessibility issues. In most cases, neither the business owners nor the website designer understands the intricacies of ADA compliance requirements. That’s why it is important to hire experienced digital accessibility solutions experts to put you and your business on the right track.
While it is easy to ignore this fact about your company’s website, you might be at risk of rising ADA web accessibility lawsuits related to ADA. For example, back in 2019, thousands of plaintiffs filed over 11,000 title III ADA lawsuits. In the year 2020, web and mobile accessibility cases filed across federal courts stood at around 2,523, which is higher than 2019 figures.
Whether you are aware of the reason why this happens or not, there is a likelihood that this trend will continue, given the rate people are building new websites and mobile apps for their businesses.
In today’s digital economy, it is no longer about places of public accommodations. Even your mobile apps ought to be accessible to people with disabilities. Whether you are aware of the fact or not, ADA prohibits discrimination relating to accessibility on the web and mobile landscapes.
How To Test Your Website To Avoid ADA Lawsuits
The tricky thing about website and mobile app compliance is that they can be working well without any issues. But when you are hit with website title III accessibility lawsuits, ignorance of the legal requirements cannot stand as an excuse for the consequences of non-compliance.
In this case, the best starting point is to test your website for being ADA-compliant. Before you get yourself into legal claims that will lead you into spending money in a federal or state court, consider these testing options to get clarity first.
#1: Automated Testing – This is the process 0f using some selected tools and automated processes to test the compliance of your websites against stipulated Web Content And Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). Using the WCAG supported by the U.S Department of Justice, an experienced developer can help you run automated tests to avoid costly lawsuits. However, if you hired a developer who has no idea of how to make your business website accessible according to ADA requirements, you will need the services of digital accessibility solutions experts.
#2: Manual ADA Website Accessibility Testing – Manual testing of your websites and mobile apps is the second option. For disabled people who cannot use a mouse or modern touch-based interfaces, this is the best website accessibility testing option to follow. Unlike automated testing which may give you about 20 – 30% detection of website accessibility problems, this option is more detailed.
Instead of flying blind with partially compliant websites, raising your awareness with this type of holistic web accessibility test will save you from expensive ADA lawsuits. Perhaps, you don’t want to experience the pressure of dealing with law firm attorneys that charge high fees.
When you are busy dealing with ADA-related legal claims in a federal or state court, you’ll not have the ability to deliver your goods and services at full scale.
You can start by requesting a free website accessibility scan online.
Platform Considerations For Web Accessibility
Most business websites are rarely built with the same platform technology. When you are interested in how to hire a website accessibility expert, this is something you shouldn’t ignore in a hurry. The key point I want to make is that a developer who is an expert in one platform technology might not have sufficient experience in another area. Before you hire an expert to make your website accessible to the blind and other people with disabilities, consider the following platform differences.
ADA Accessibility Testing For WordPress Websites
WordPress is one of the most popular content management systems for building websites. Technically, the core structures of WordPress as a CMS and website builder are not the same as other platform technologies. Assuming you are not familiar with WCAG 2.1 as a business owner, you should endeavor to find a WordPress expert if your website is built on this platform.
ADA Accessibility Testing For Shopify Stores
Specifically for e-commerce websites, Shopify had become the go-to standard for modern business owners selling physical goods and services online. Again, the foundations of Shopify are hardly the same as other platform technologies. Based on this fact, it will be helpful to find an experienced Shopify website expert to help you avoid accessibility litigation and the consequences.
ADA Accessibility For Squarespace Websites
Is your website built on Squarespace? You can avoid website accessibility lawsuits by hiring an expert with relevant Squarespace experience to test your systems and make them compliant with WCAG 2.1 supported by the U.S Department of Justice. If you don’t want costly accessibility litigation claims filed against your company, do not ignore this.
ADA Accessibility For Mobile Applications
Mobile app developers are not the same as WordPress website designers. To avoid being sued for discrimination against disabled people, consider hiring experts who understand mobile accessibility with regard to ADA. When your business is mobile-centric, dealing with accessibility cases in a federal or state court will affect your growth.
The Best Ways To Avoid ADA Lawsuits
In the brick-and-mortar economy, understanding discrimination on the basis of physical disability in a place of public accommodation is relatively easy. Contrary to this, violation of title III provisions in stipulated places of public accommodation within a digital economy is tricky. That means your company’s website might be operating in violation of ADA Title III without your awareness. That’s why anyone can file in any law court, a legal claim of being denied the right of equal access.
Below are some of the best ways to make your website accessible and avoid title III-related litigation without alienating blind users who may become plaintiffs tomorrow.
#1: Understand The Requirements
Before you commit to making your business website accessible to visually impaired users, you have to understand the core requirements. Because your site is considered to be a digital place of public accommodation, it is your responsibility to ensure maximum protection against any lawsuit.
It doesn’t matter the nature of the products or services you are selling, understanding the core requirements is the first step you have to take. You can start by exploring the latest version of Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. It is also helpful to check the DOJ website for the latest guidelines related to title III of the disabilities act.
#2: Request A Professional Audit
Whether you are the person building your company’s online presence or not, failing to provide equal access might leave you vulnerable to an unexpected lawsuit. It doesn’t matter whether you are a web or mobile design expert, a little form of vulnerability in this regard may leave you entangled with expensive attorneys who will feed off your ignorance.
Based on the fact that your site is considered a place of public accommodations within the digital economy, you should be taking proactive steps toward the protection of your company. One way to do this is to request our professional audit services. Starting from here, you’ll be able to prevent demand letters and discrimination litigation from smart attorneys and their plaintiffs.
With our ADA website compliance audit, we’ll help to detect some of the most common errors that could get your company into legal trouble.
#3: Hire Website Accessibility Experts
Making your company website digitally accessible is one thing. Most web designers can do that. Complying with the provisions of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) is an entirely different challenge. Here is why the technical complexities of ADA-related accessibility problems can hardly be handled properly by conventional website design experts.
From the detection of common errors to making your website compliant, hiring accessibility experts can help you prevent going to court to waste time and money with ill-intentioned plaintiffs. Interestingly, I want you to note that the type of audit mentioned here is different from the website search engine optimization audit usually provided by marketing companies.
Even though you may be selling physical products, your company site is also considered among digital places of public accommodation. The meaning here is that you are supposed to provide equal access without discrimination. That’s why it is important to hire an ADA website accessibility services provider to help protect your company against unexpected plaintiffs.
#4: Use ADA Dedicated WordPress Plugin
Is your website built on the WordPress platform? Are you technically savvy to a certain level? There is a dedicated plugin built to help WordPress website owners to become compliant with the ADA provisions. When you install this plugin, you’ll be able to take a proactive approach in the following ways.
- Scan your entire site and schedule scans
- Find and display exact areas of concern
- Get some easy to read issues reports
- Identify untagged PDF files
- Help you make improvements and compare changes
If you are able to install and use this plugin, you might be able to avoid legal troubles burdening other companies and their owners across the different state and federal courts in the United States. As I have said earlier, avoiding issues like this is usually less expensive than the smallest law case. But then you don’t have to wait for what threatened other companies at different courts to threaten you.
This is a shortcut and misses MANY things that still are required to make your website fully ADA compliant.
Website Accessibility Litigation FAQs
Can I be sued if my website is not ADA-compliant?
The real question is not whether you’ll be sued or not, the question is when? Knowing that accessibility lawsuits are on the rise, you have to start taking proactive steps toward the protection of your businesses. It is also worth noting that being ignorant is not an excuse in the eyes of the law. This is why we recommend exploring and understanding those requirements.
What disabilities are not covered by the ADA?
Disabilities like a broken limb, infection, and sprain are not covered. Assuming someone sustained severe physical injury, this is also not covered in the Americans With Disabilities Act. For a complete list of disabilities covered in the act, check this link.
What is an ADA violation?
This is an act of violating the provisions and requirements of the Americans With Disabilities Act. Before the emergence of today’s ubiquitous digital economy, it used to be about equal access in all places of public accommodation. But now the technical complexities of digital accessibility are part of the overall act, you have to enlighten yourself to avoid unintentional but punishable violations of this act.
Do all businesses have to be ADA-compliant?
The answer is yes, all businesses are required by the law to be compliant with the provisions of this act. It doesn’t matter whether you are serving a single client or the public. To avoid the consequences of the law regarding the website accessibility requirements, we recommend that you hire specialty experts to put you on the right track. Depending on the size of your company, you wouldn’t want to land in the U.S Supreme Court because of a preventable violation.
How do you comply with ADA?
The very first step is to explore the requirements and provisions of the act. The next step is to test your website. You can start by requesting a free website scan or professional audit. By taking either of these actions, you’ll be in a better position to comply with the act. Assuming you don’t have the technical expertise to handle the accessibility errors uncovered after a free test or professional audit, then you need to hire experienced experts to help you get it done.
While you are reading this post, your website might be violating the provisions of the act. But since you have taken the time to read this post, I’ll say this is a good step in the right direction. Having reached this section of the post, you now have a better idea of how to avoid expensive court cases.
However, you still need to take some action. Consider some of the key points discussed on the specific things you can do from this moment. Even when the fines are not that big, dealing with unexpected attorneys’ fees won’t move your company forward in any way.
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The ADA prohibits any private businesses that provide goods or services to the public, referred to as “public accommodations,” from discriminating against those with disabilities. Federal courts have ruled that the ADA includes websites in the definition of public accommodation. As such, websites must offer auxiliary aids and services to low-vision, hearing-impaired, and physically disabled persons, in the same way a business facility must offer wheelchair ramps, braille signage, and sign language interpreters, among other forms of assistance.
All websites must be properly coded for use by electronic screen readers that read aloud to sight-impaired users the visual elements of a webpage. Additionally, all live and pre-recorded audio content must have synchronous captioning for hearing-impaired users.
Websites must accommodate hundreds of keyboard combinations, such as Ctrl + P to print, that people with disabilities depend on to navigate the Internet.
Litigation continues to increase substantially. All business and governmental entities are potential targets for lawsuits and demand letters. Recent actions by the Department of Justice targeting businesses with inaccessible websites will likely create a dramatic increase of litigation risk.
Big box retailer Target Corp. was ordered to pay $6 million – plus $3.7 million more in legal costs – to settle a landmark class action suit brought by the National Federation of the Blind. Other recent defendants in these cases have included McDonald’s, Carnival Cruise Lines, Netflix, Harvard University, Foot Locker, and the National Basketball Association (NBA). Along with these large companies, thousands of small businesses have been subject to ADA website litigation.
Defendants in ADA lawsuits typically pay plaintiff's legal fees, their own legal fees for defending the litigation, and potential additional costs. In all, the average cost can range from tens of thousands of dollars, to above six figures. There are also high intangible costs, such as added stress, time and human capital, as well as reputational damage. Furthermore, if the remediation is incomplete, copycat suits and serial filers can follow, meaning double or triple the outlay. It's vital to implement a long-term strategy for ensuring your website is accessible and legally compliant.