5 Web Accessibility Lawsuits and How Your Business Can Avoid Them
Building a website for your business needs a lot of planning. You need to create content that will speak to and attract your target market. You must also ensure that your pages are not only visually pleasing but also easy to navigate whether in browsers or mobile devices.
As you and your web design team tie these factors together, another crucial element that you need to focus on in website planning is how to make your website ADA-compliant.
What Is an ADA-Compliant Website?
The ADA, which stands for the Americans with Disabilities Act, is a law that is designed to uphold and protect the civil rights of individuals with disabilities. This law covers areas of public life, which include equal employment opportunities and access to transportation, accommodations, and government programs and services.
Considering the above, what can you do to make sure that your website does not violate any rule under the ADA?
It boils down to web accessibility.
While it’s not explicitly indicated in the guidelines, website accessibility falls under Title III, which covers public accommodations. Under Title III, banks, hotels, restaurants, grocery stores, and similar facilities that are private or nonprofit organizations are required not to discriminate against persons with disabilities when it comes to providing access to their products or services.
In this digital era, more consumers use the internet to gain information, make purchases, pay bills, and stream music and videos, among many other activities. While it is a gray area, apps and websites may be considered “places of public accommodation” as these are portals that offer products and services for public consumption.
In effect, businesses, whether big or small, should consider making their website accessible to all individuals to avoid the risk of litigation.
Does the ADA Have Compliance Requirements for Digital Accessibility?
In the US, rule-making for website accessibility standards has been on hold since 2010. However, businesses can refer to the standards in the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) to see if their website is universally accessible.
A website is digitally accessible if it meets the following principles:
- Perceivable – Website components should be presented in different ways, so they are visible to all sensory functions.
- Operable – Besides using a mouse, functionalities must be performed using a keyboard and other keyboard alternatives, like voice recognition and other text input devices.
- Understandable – Website content must be in a language that is easy to read and understand. The website interface must be in simple and predictable patterns for easy navigation. Input assistance techniques must be integrated to reduce mistakes or fix them (e.g., filling out forms).
- Robust – Contents must be compatible with all existing and future channels, such as browsers, web-enabled devices, and other assistive technologies.
To know if your website meets the above standards, you can do a website audit. Website audits may be automated using a tool, or done manually, typically by an accessibility consultant or a web design agency with expertise on ADA compliance.
What Can Happen If Your Website Is Not ADA-Compliant?
If your website is not accessible to a person with a disability, your business risks facing a legal complaint. A digital accessibility case can be a huge headache and might lead to financial losses. Worse, it can also impact your brand’s reputation and result in the loss of customer trust and loyalty.
5 Web Accessibility Lawsuits
Below are five notable website accessibility cases. Some cases ended in a settlement, while others are still waiting for a court decision. Let’s take a look at why lawsuits were filed against these companies so that you can avoid making the same mistakes.
1. Guillermo Robles v. Domino’s Pizza
In 2016, a blind man named Guillermo Robles filed a federal lawsuit against Domino’s Pizza because both the pizza giant’s app and website were unable to process his order. Robles was using his screen-reading software, an assistive technology that converts screen content into either synthesized speech or Braille.
This case has been running for years, with Domino’s Pizza even filing a petition to the Supreme Court to hear the case in 2019. However, the Supreme Court denied the petition, leaving the decision to a lower court. As of the first half quarter of 2021, the case has not yet been settled.
2. National Association of the Deaf v. Harvard University
Four students with hearing loss, together with the National Association of the Deaf (NAD), filed two lawsuits against Harvard University and MIT. The lawsuits stated that the universities’ online content was not accessible to people with hearing loss.
In 2019, the plaintiffs and Harvard reached a settlement, where the university was ordered to add captions or scripts to their website audio and video content, including their massive open online courses and guest lectures.
3. Mary Conner v. Parkwood Entertainment
This class action lawsuit is famous because it involves Beyonce.com, the website of pop singer Beyoncé. The plaintiff is Mary Conner, a legally blind person who uses a screen reader to access the internet. The 2019 lawsuit states that Beyonce.com had accessibility barriers preventing people with disabilities to have full access to the website’s main features. According to the lawsuit, the website was missing elements such as alt-text on images and keyboard access.
4. Access Now v. Blue Apron
Blue Apron is an e-commerce store offering meal kit services. They have no physical stores. The lawsuit filed against Blue Apron states that the store’s website doesn’t have alt-tags nor captioned videos that can help users with vision loss understand the features of the website. The company filed a motion for the case to be dismissed, but it was denied by the district court.
5. Luc Burbon v. Fox News Network
Just like the lawsuits above, this case involved complaints about Fox’s website lacking key elements of an ADA-compliant website. Some of the issues stated are the lack of alt-text for images and keyboard navigation.
In 2018, Burbon and Fox agreed to a settlement, where one condition required Fox to change their website to meet WCAG standards.
What Are the Key Takeaways from These Lawsuits?
The missteps made by the above big-name companies offer many lessons that can help you avoid making the same errors.
1. Design your website with accessibility in mind
Keep in mind that a portion of your consumers may be people with disabilities. It is essential that before you build your website, your design team must understand the importance of ADA compliance and what standards your website must meet to become accessible to everyone. It is also a good idea to include people with disabilities in testing your website, so you will understand their needs better.
2. If you receive a complaint, address it
Most lawsuits state technical problems as the main issue. Some of these are missing alt texts, empty links, and missing page titles—all these are repairable. If your design team does not have the expertise to fix these issues, you can have them undergo training or you can hire a third party instead.
3. Create an accessibility statement if your website is not yet fully optimized
If you’re still in the process of making your website ADA-compliant, let your visitors know that improvements are still underway. Leave an email address or contact number where they can reach you, and make sure that they are accessible using assistive technology.
You’ll save more money in making an accessibility-compliant website versus facing litigation
Hiring a accessibility consultant to help you make your website ADA-compliant may present high upfront costs. However, such expenses can be significantly lower than the cost of paying for fines or attorney fees.
4. Understand that website accessibility standards are here to stay
Having an ADA-compliant website shows consumers that your business embraces inclusivity and diversity. This is a huge plus in boosting your reputation and widening your customer base.
To learn more about making your website ADA compliant go to https://adawebaccessibility.com/.