Every business needs to have a website to survive and thrive since the world was hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. Unfortunately, not every company is paying adequate attention to whether their website is accessible by all customers or not. Therein lie the problem and the focus of this article.
The Rising Trend of Lawsuits
The truth is, till last year, many business owners were not even aware of the legal requirement to make business websites accessible to people with disabilities. However, that changed with the rising numbers of accessibility lawsuits in the United States. As per statistics, in 2018 and 2019, there were more than 2200 lawsuits filed each year.
Albeit, the numbers have started declining since the last quarter of 2019 when the supreme court rejected the petition filed by Domino’s Pizza to plead the Fourteenth amendment against an accessibility lawsuit. The lawsuit was filed by a blind person who could not access the restaurant’s website to order a pizza using his screen reader.
Some of the other high profile accessibility lawsuits are:
- Beyonce’s Parkwood Entertainment
- Fox News Network
- Burger King
- Blue Apron
- CVS Pharmacy
- Harvard University
- Gimlet Media
- ADP HR and Payroll Processing
The string of these notable accessibility lawsuits has managed to attract the attention of business owners, which is evident from the flattening curve of cases per year. However, there are still more than a hundred accessibility lawsuits filed every month in the country. That means more and more business owners need to pay attention to the legal implications of digital accessibility.
Are the Lawsuits Frivolous?
Many companies claim that these lawsuits are frivolous and an excuse and are used as tools to shakedown large companies. Domino’s Pizza had challenged that the ADA does not provide enough information or guidelines about website accessibility.
Blanchard Family Wines, which is a local culinary business based in Colorado, got a legal notice for an accessibility lawsuit filed in October 2020. The business owners claimed that the out of state lawsuit is doing more harm than good since it is hurting small businesses that are trying to stay solvent.
During Domino’s legal battle, the Ninth Court of Appeals clearly stated that a website or any digital presence is to be considered an extension of the business premises.
Therefore it must conform and comply with Article III of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which states that all business premises open to the public must be accessible to everyone without any form of discrimination. So inaccessibility of a company’s website can be construed as the lack of attempt to repel discrimination against people with disabilities.
Why Should Businesses Invest in a Solution?
While it is true that the current form of ADA needs adjustments to make room for website accessibility, the implications of the laws are quite explicit. The Department of Justice has made it abundantly clear that business websites must be accessible to avoid such lawsuits or ADA demand letters.
Authorities have further instructed that business websites must meet the criteria set forth by the current Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) to be deemed accessible for everyone. Most of the defendants in the accessibility lawsuits had to face legal consequences. Several of them had to pay heavy fines, as well as compensate the plaintiffs for their legal expenses.
Plaintiffs cannot make any monetary claims for lawsuits under federal laws like the ADA. However, businesses can still lose a lot of money due to legal expenses and fines.
Therefore it is in the company’s best interest that they invest in a robust accessibility solution to make their website compliant with Article III of ADA and other accessibility laws of the United States. There are several modern solutions to make a business website accessible without the compilations of redesigning or shutting down online operations.
Startups like accessiBe.com have developed an atuomatic software that can easily make any website compliant with all the laws. The software can also make the website compliant with the laws of many other regions, such as Canada, Europe, Australia, Israel, and several others. Therefore, the argument of web accessibility being too difficult to achieve will fail to give defendants any traction during a hearing.
To become compliant with the current laws, websites must meet the guidelines set forth by WCAG 2.1, which lists several criteria to be fulfilled. These criteria have been segregated into three levels, namely A, AA, and AAA. Websites must meet the criteria under AA to become compliant with the ADA.
There are several other benefits to making a website accessible according to these guidelines. Several of the WCAG 2.1 criteria coincide with the current SEO techniques, which automatically becomes a step towards marketing the business.
Businesses should also remember that almost 26% of the adult American population live with disabilities according to the CDC, and they have a lot of spending power. So making a website accessible would also be a step towards increasing the target market substantially.
The decision of passing a new law regarding website accessibility is already underway. Until then, it is in the best interest of companies to invest in a robust accessibility solution that can protect them from expensive lawsuits and prove beneficial for the business.