ADA website compliance is a hot topic among any business that has a website (and in today’s world, that really is 99% of them). You’ve likely seen news stories about companies that are getting sued or settling out of court for having a website that doesn’t comply with the American Disabilities Act and you’re also probably wondering if this affects you or your business.
The exact terms are undisclosed, however, ADA website accessibility settlements required companies to update their online and mobile presence to better accommodate the visually impaired. This includes code fixes and other changes that make websites and apps more compatible with screen reader technology. The cases were filed early 2017 and settled within weeks.
Lack of accessibility in crucial website features. For instance, in the case with Netflix, deaf or hard of hearing users couldn’t have the same viewer experience as every other individual due to lack of video captions and subtitles. Another example here is the case with Walt Disney when disabled individuals couldn’t have proper access to website because of video and audio trailers which could not be turned off by physically and visually impaired people. These ADA website accessibility lawsuits demonstrate that litigation is more likely if a key purpose of visiting a website is completely eradicated by inaccessible UI.
Resolution: Claimant called for a permanent injunction against Fox News, requiring them to take all steps necessary to make its website fully accessible and conform to accessibility standards. Burbon also sought for compensatory, statutory and punitive damages for violations of New York State Human Rights Law and Civil Rights Law, court costs and attorneys’ fees, all with pre- and post-judgment interest. The parties reached a website ADA settlement agreement and the case was dismissed.
Web designers often design in such a way that does not allow the user to adjust font size or color. While they may be protecting their brand, they are also inhibiting some users. Many visually impaired need to use high contrast color settings or very large fonts to read a website. Don't design your website in a way that makes it impossible for them to do this.
While an ADA retaliation claim does not warrant compensatory and punitive damages, lawyers are able to pursue compensation for their client’s legal fees, which may range from such amounts as $25,000 to astonishing digits. The court may also issue an injunction for the defendant to make their website accessible to people with disabilities by a specified date. In other cases, the defendant may be forced to pay a civil penalty.
You may have installed a ramp, increased the width of your door frames, or made other accommodations to ensure that your physical premises are accessible to all. The requirement for equal access used to only apply to physical locations and storefronts, but now the government is actively ensuring that the requirements for ADA accessibility include online properties such as websites and mobile apps.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) has specifically stated in rulings that websites should be designed so they are accessible to individuals who have vision, hearing, and physical disabilities. There’s a growing body of case law where the DOJ required companies to provide an ADA compliant website and levied hefty penalties when sites failed to measure up.
Blind people, those with low vision, and people with other disabilities that affect their ability to read a computer display often use different technologies so they can access the information displayed on a webpage. Two commonly used technologies are screen readers and refreshable Braille displays. As discussed above, a screen reader is a computer program that speaks the text that appears on the computer display, beginning in the top-left corner. A refreshable Braille display is an electronic device that translates text into Braille characters that can be read by touch. These assistive technologies read text. They cannot translate images into speech or Braille, even if words appear in the images. For example, these technologies cannot interpret a photograph of a stop sign, even if the word “stop” appears in the image.
The large number of people who have disabilities, coupled with the challenges that they face, is one of the reasons that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed in 1990.² As its name suggests, the ADA is designed to protect individuals with disabilities in the United States. The ADA essentially makes it illegal for any government entity or business to provide goods and services to the general public without ensuring that the entities are accessible by people with disabilities. In today’s digitally driven world, many businesses fail to follow web accessibility best practices. In fact, this is why the Supplemental Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (SANPRM) was created by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). To ensure that they are implementing digital accessibility best practices, organizations are encouraged to use the WCAG 2.1 technical requirements.³
Talk to your web designer about other techniques that will make your site more user-friendly for people with disabilities. Worried that’s not in your budget? Consider the fact that DOJ fines start at $75,000. And it's still yet to be determined if a non-compliant website is liable for one fine or will be charge per page for each violation. As the recent lawsuits illustrate, though, settlements quickly add up into the millions.
...the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, or accommodations of any place of "public accommodation" by any person who owns, leases, or operates a place of public accommodation. Public accommodations include most places of lodging (such as inns and hotels), recreation, transportation, education, and dining, along with stores, care providers, and places of public displays.
You may have noticed a common theme among these cases. Most of these cases’ plaintiffs were visually impaired individuals that couldn’t use their screen reading software with a website. It’s vital to note that disabilities extend well beyond blind individuals and all companies should adhere to all-encompassing best practices as it relates to ADA website compliance.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and, if the government entities receive federal funding, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 generally require that state and local governments provide qualified individuals with disabilities equal access to their programs, services, or activities unless doing so would fundamentally alter the nature of their programs, services, or activities or would impose an undue burden.2 One way to help meet these requirements is to ensure that government websites have accessible features for people with disabilities, using the simple steps described in this document. An agency with an inaccessible website may also meet its legal obligations by providing an alternative accessible way for citizens to use the programs or services, such as a staffed telephone information line. These alternatives, however, are unlikely to provide an equal degree of access in terms of hours of operation and the range of options and programs available.