The Americans with Disabilities Act was signed into law over 30 years ago. But it wasn’t until recently that its impact on website owners has emerged. Back in 2017, law firm Seyfarth Shaw reported an increase of 16 percent in lawsuits related to the disabilities act. Most of these were due to non-compliant websites.
ADA and Website Accessibility
The Americans with Disabilities Act or ADA is designed to protect against discimination. It was created before the web and has a very wide scope that covers:
- Private and public spaces
- State and local government institutions
- Employment opportunities
- Transportation and telecommunications
- Building codes
A quick background on website accessibility
Of course, the original ADA did not account for website accessibility. There was no need because there were no websites. This began to change in 2003 when the Department of Justice published the first guidelines aimed at state and local governments to make their websites as accessible as possible for those with disabilities.
A revised version of Section 508 under Title II of ADA took effect in 2018. This came to be known as the Section 508 Refresh and it included now well-known standards based on the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).
The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines outline a list of requirements that websites need to conform by in order to be accessible. This is a global initiative and was published by the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) under the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C).
Despite there being detailed guidelines, website owners can still be vulnerable to ADA lawsuits.
The Problem with ADA and Website Accessibility
You may think that any lawsuits are the result of a lack of effort or awareness by website owners. But that’s not the case.
The section 508 Refresh only applies to state and local governments. This makes compliance confusing to website owners and app creators. What they need to be aware of is Title III of the ADA, rather than the more vague Title II.
Title III mandates that businesses which are open to the public remove “access barriers” that may prevent disabled individuals from accessing goods and services. In some cases, this has been argues that any website that sells goods or services should fall under this ruling, even if they are online only and have no physical presence. This is making website owners more vulnerable to ADA.
How Can I Protect Myself Against ADA Lawsuits?
The DOJ said back in 2018 that they intended to update Title III of the ADA to include outlines for website accessibility for businesses. But they have yet to make these changes. Until then, the safest thing to do is to use the same WCAG guidelines provided for state and local governments.
You could also look at the trend of ADA lawsuits in your state. California and New York, for instance, provide monetary compensation to aggrieved parties and have the highest rates of lawsuits.
For more information on website accessibility, get in touch with our website experts for a free consultation.