ADA and Lawsuits Against Non-Compliant Websites
Every business has a reputation to uphold, and part of what feeds into that reputation is whether or not a website is compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Having a non-compliant website is not a good look, and there are many lawsuits that show what can happen when a website isn’t geared towards inclusion.
Americans with Disabilities Act Explained
Earlier waves of the civil rights movement have focused on protecting the rights of men and women, regardless of what ethnicity, race, religion, or sex they were. In 1990, there was a push for also defending the rights of those with different abilities, which resulted in the creation of the ADA. The ADA impacted and influenced all aspects of how organizations were run and promoted possibilities and opportunities for those with disabilities.
The ADA focuses on protecting the rights of disabled people in the workforce by making the workplace physically accessible for everyone regardless of ability. Outside the workplace, the ADA prioritizes the following areas:
● Public accommodations
● Accessibility to state and local government programs and services
ADA and Websites
As helpful as it is that the ADA has ensured businesses have accommodations such as wheelchair-accessible ramps, there is little guidance when it comes to website accessibility and compliance. This means that in court cases, it’s up to the court to decide if the websites are compliant or not, without a framework to operate with.
How does this impact you? Well, if you’re not aware of the possibility of your website being non-compliant or at risk of being perceived as such, then your business could be sued at any time. Some businesses may be able to shoulder that sort of financial burden, but unless you’re a large business with a huge profit margin and a lawyer on payroll, you most likely can’t afford to be taken to court.
ADA and website compliance in the court
With no guidance about what counts as a clear lack of compliance, courts have argued on whether or not certain online practices are considered to be in line with the ADA or not. Before
getting into the nitty-gritty of these cases, it’s important to clarify the foundational right being protected that’s up for debate when it comes to website compliance.
At the forefront of this debate whether something is ADA compliant is the general determination that access to public space is either restricted or not restricted from those with different abilities. For a while, it was up for debate whether the internet counted as such a public space, but more recent hearings seem to show a preference for determining the internet as such.
In Europe, there are guidelines to help businesses be compliant with accessibility called WCAG 2.0 AA. There are levels of compliance — AA standing for the “standard,” A for “below acceptable,” and AAA for “exceptional.” Ideally, a business would want to be between WCAG 2.0 AA and WCAG 2.0 AAA compliant.
More and more of these court hearings and cases are coming up, some more prominent than others. In total, there were over 2,000 federal cases in 2018.
Here are some examples:
1. Domino’s Pizza case
A man named Guillermo Robles filed a lawsuit against Domino’s Pizza because he was unable to use his special screen reading software in order to create his own custom pizza and place an order. The court ruled in his favor since both the Domino’s app and website didn’t score as WCAG 2.0 AA.
2. Hobby Lobby case
Hobby Lobby was sued by Sean Gorecki, who was legally blind. Using the JAWS reading software, certain aspects of the website couldn’t be read. This website was considered to be non-WCAG 2.0 AA compliant, leading to a win for Gorecki.
3. The Harvard and MIT case
Even though Harvard and MIT are known for being innovative and attracting high achievers, the prestigious schools were sued by the National Association of the Deaf as their course materials were all not accessible for those with hearing impairments. Considerations like adding captions weren’t made, and the case is still ongoing.
Mary Condor sued the singer for her website not being accessible to her due to a lack of implementation of WCAG 2.0 AA. Condor had visual impairments and had great difficulty using a screen reader due to a lack of alt-text and keyboard accessibility.
How to make your own website ADA compliant
Now, it’s clear that none of these businesses had built their websites with the intention to make the lives of those with different abilities difficult. However, even if unintentional, it leaves you and your business vulnerable to a lawsuit. This can be avoided. For example, here are some requirements for your website to be considered compliant with WCAG 2.0 AA standards:
• The content must be written in a way that screen readers are able to translate it (this includes providing alt-text for each image, as well as incorporating keyboard access)
• Videos must include on-screen captions for those with hearing impairments
• A drop-down menu must be accessible via the keyboard as well as mouse
Those are just three major ways you can make it more accessible and potentially avoid the pitfalls that lead to court cases. However, there are many more features that can be incorporated to make your website more compliant.
As a business owner, you want nothing more than for it to thrive. However, it’s always vulnerable to someone stumbling across your website and finding that it’s non-compliant with ADA standards. This can easily be avoided by simply hiring a team to work with you on your website to make all the necessary changes and implement the features that will make it accessible to everyone.
Hiring a web team like Nerd Crossing has huge benefits, including your peace of mind and protecting your business. As Nerd Crossing likes to emphasize: first impressions matter, and having your website be compliant makes for a great first impression!