All Americans have seen the welcome changes made for businesses and public spaces to be compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 in order to assist those with disabilities better participate in everyday activities. Most of what comes to mind when being ADA compliant involves physical changes to a space or actions of a company being inclusive. However, lately there has been a string of nearly 5,000 ADA lawsuits regarding the websites of companies allegedly violating ADA regulations.
There are no formal government standards for private businesses to follow in order for their website to be ADA compliant. The current administration halted further drafting of rules private businesses need to follow in order to be compliant, although the government websites already follow guidelines laid out by a group of web innovators called the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. This grey area of the law remaining unclarified had caused the floodgates to open for legal action to be brought against any private company, including hotel and restaurant chains, universities, and supermarkets.
The difficulty for small businesses comes in to play when their website is largely populated by images and videos which are inaccessible to those who are vision or hearing impaired. In order for a website with these features to be fully accessible to those with disabilities, the content must be coded so that certain software can make words into an audio translation for the visually impaired, the site can be used by keyboard commands for those who cannot use a mouse, and videos have descriptions and captions for the hearing impaired. The issue for many smaller businesses is the cost of making these changes. Businesses have to populate their websites with content in this age driven by content creators and influencers, but the cost of implementing the changes needed to avoid a lawsuit can range from a thousand to a million dollars in order to make a website heavy in images and videos accessible for every type of disability.
Businesses have complained that these lawsuits are just people taking advantage of the fact that there is a grey area of the law and that the plaintiffs are just seeking a payout by filing multiple suits against large businesses. The lawyers bringing these suits are demanding large settlements without giving these businesses the time necessary to make the appropriate changes to these sites once they are aware of their shortcomings in compliance. This is a usual practice in which private companies are given a reasonable amount of time to rectify any issues leading to the complaint. A large percentage of these suits are specifically bring brought against companies in California due to California’s minimum damages amount of US$4,000.00, plus attorney’s fees, which can be imposed for each ADA violation. This leads most to see these lawsuits as a money-grab more than an initiative to encourage businesses to make their websites ADA compliant.
Do you have questions about how to make sure your business website is ADA compliant? To discuss your website, contact our firm for an initial consultation.