Is Your Business’s Website ADA Compliant?

Is a website considered a “place of public accommodation” just like a brick and mortar building, and as such, subject to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)? The courts have returned mixed decisions on this issue. As a result, the number of web accessibility lawsuits have risen in recent years.

Several high-profile (and low-profile) businesses have been subjected to legal action regarding the accessibility of their websites. Because of these suits, a website that is not fully accessible to people with these and other types of disabilities could pose a significant risk to your business:

  • Visual: blindness (color and total) and other sight impairments.
  • Auditory: deafness, hearing impairment and other auditory deficits.
  • Motor: loss or degradation of fine or gross motor control.
  • Cognitive: learning/developmental disabilities and other cognitive impairments.
  • Seizure: seizures caused by strobe/flashing lights.

Last year, approximately 2,258 web accessibility lawsuits were filed in federal court — a significant increase from 817 similar suits in 2017. A number of decisions have thus far ruled that the ADA applies online; however, the Justice Department has not yet released formal accessibility regulations for websites, making it challenging to know whether or not your business could come under scrutiny. In 2010, the Justice Department stated its intention to release definitive regulations for businesses, but ultimately did not follow through.

Domino’s Pizza has perhaps been the highest profile case in the news recently. A blind customer sued Domino’s when he was unable to order a pizza from the company’s website or app using screen reader technology. And while a federal judge dismissed the lawsuit in 2017, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed that dismissal, ruling that the ADA covers the websites and mobile apps of businesses with physical locations, even without formal regulations from the Justice Department. Domino’s Pizza had appealed for a review by the Supreme Court, but the high court ultimately decided not to hear the case.

“The internet, without reservation, is the world’s largest infrastructure,” author of the ADA, former Rep. Tony Coelho of California, told CNET. “That, in effect, means that [Domino’s is] covered by the ADA. The courts have ruled that.”

Web accessibility can mean a lot of things, and in our ever-changing world of technology, it can be hard to discern exactly what qualifies as an ADA-compliant website without clear-cut regulations. Your website accessibility can be improved by doing things like: including subtitles on videos, ensuring that all photos have alt tags, coding your website or app to be compatible with screen readers or other accessibility technologies, and maintaining a certain degree of contrast between text and background colors. These items, however, by no means represent a comprehensive list of what makes a website ADA compliant. In fact, it is the lack of specific guidance that presents a major problem for businesses and web developers.

The Web Accessibility Initiative, a project by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), set forth the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 1.0) in 1999. In 2008, the organization updated the recommendations with its release of WCAG 2.0, which has been widely, though not universally, adopted worldwide.

The WCAG guidelines were identified as the “industry standard” for web accessibility by a Florida Federal Court in 2017 in a case involving Winn Dixie Store Inc. In 2018, WCAG 2.1 became a W3C Recommendation, which broadened the accessibility standards to help accommodate those with cognitive/learning disabilities and low vision, and all disabled persons using mobile devices.

Representing your business online through websites and mobile apps poses a number of considerations, which now include making it accessible to disabled users. Until clear guidance on ADA web compliance is issued, it’s advisable to consult a qualified attorney for advice regarding your specific business and website. Kymera provides professional website design and development services for your business or brand. Contact us today.

 

Sources:

https://www.boia.org/blog/over-2250-web-accessibility-lawsuits-filed-in-2018-could-they-triple-in-2019

https://www.cnet.com/news/why-the-fate-of-online-accessibility-may-rest-with-a-dominos-pizza-lawsuit/