Although WCAG is not yet backed by a statutory act, many companies have already faced serious litigation, suffered significant losses and incurred high legal expenses that followed ADA website compliance lawsuits.

ADA Requirements and Website Accessibility

We are not lawyers. Therefore, this is not legal advice. If you need legal advice, you should speak with a lawyer. This is simply a summary of information we have compiled from many months of research and case summaries.

When the Americans with Disabilities Act became law in 1990, modern communication technologies such as the Internet were still in their infancy. The past few decades, however, have seen the rise of new channels such as websites and mobile applications, raising questions about the ADA’s original mission to make U.S. society more accessible to people with disabilities. Although it doesn’t explicitly mention them, the ADA has been widely interpreted to extend to websites.

ADA Requirements for Accessibility

Title II and Title III of the ADA are the two sections that are most relevant for questions of web accessibility:

  • Title II prohibits disability-based discrimination on the part of state and local governments.
  • Title III prohibits disability-based discrimination for “places of public accommodations”: private businesses that are open to the public, such as restaurants, hotels, movie theaters, museums and doctor offices.

The U.S. Department of Justice has repeatedly held that while the ADA does not specifically address the question of web accessibility, its language is still broad enough to include websites as part of your business operations. The legal consensus is that if Title II or Title III apply to your organization, then they also apply to your website.

Because the ADA does not specifically mention websites, it also does not outline standards for how organizations can make their websites accessible.

ADA and Web Accessibility Lawsuit Overview

In 2016, 240 federal ADA website compliance lawsuits were filed. 814 were filed in 2017 and during the first 6 months of 2018 there have been at least 1053 lawsuits filed against organizations in a variety of industries, from banks to restaurants. The defendants include small businesses as well as major corporations. Most of them were coming from California, New York and Florida residents with disabilities.

The Trump administration’s DOJ had previously promised to begin using WCAG 2.0 as its formal standard for web accessibility. However, the DOJ recently included this action as part of the department’s “inactive list,” which means that it’s not likely to be adopted in the near future. As a result, a clear standard to judge an organizations’ web accessibility will continue to be interpreted, and the number of ADA website lawsuits is not expected to slow down any time soon.

The DOJ has frequently cited recommendations such as the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 as acceptable metrics for accessibility. June 2018 WCAG produced an updated version of the guidelines: 2.1.

Carlos Gil v. Winn-Dixie Stores, Inc., Civil Action No. 16–23020 (S.D. Fla.)
The Winn-Dixie grocery chain operated a website that was not accessible through assistive technology. This made the site inaccessible to anyone with a visual impairment. In order to be covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the website must either be a “public accommodation” on its own or must be a service of a public accommodation. Without ruling on whether the website on its own was a public accommodation, the court held that the site was a service of a public accommodation. The retail stores operated by Winn-Dixie were undoubtedly public accommodations, and the website acted as a gateway to the retail stores. Therefore, the website is also covered by the ADA, and must therefore comply with the ADA’s accessibility requirements. Click here to read the case summary.

U.S. District Judge Robert Scola ruled that: (1) Winn-Dixie’s website was a “place of a public accommodation” under the ADA and (2) based on the testimony of the plaintiff and his expert, the website was not sufficiently accessible.

As a result, the court issued injunctive relief and awarded attorneys’ fees. The injunctive relief included the following requirements:

  • Winn-Dixie adopt and implement a website accessibility policy.
  • Ensures the website conforms to the WCAG 2.0 criteria.
  • Any third-party vendors who interact with the website also must conform to such criteria.
Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG)

Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) defines how to make Web content more accessible to people with disabilities. Accessibility involves a wide range of disabilities, including visual, auditory, physical, speech, cognitive, language, learning, and neurological disabilities. Although these guidelines cover a wide range of issues, they are not able to address the needs of people with all types, degrees, and combinations of disability. These guidelines also make Web content more usable by older individuals with changing abilities due to aging and often improve usability for users in general.

What does this mean for your business?

ADA website accessibility and compliance with WCAG standards is an issue that must not be taken lightly. Although WCAG is not yet backed by a statutory act, many companies have already faced serious litigation, suffered significant losses and incurred high legal expenses that followed ADA website compliance lawsuits. While complying with the WCAG is not a complete shield against ADA lawsuits, it should be every business’s first step in reducing its liability exposure.

How we can help

Simply undertaking the process to begin to comply with the WCAG standards is often not a defense to these lawsuits, so it is prudent to achieve compliance early. We can assist by carrying out an in-depth analysis of your website, checking all its aspects for compliance with WCAG 2.1 guidelines and develop a detailed plan, highlighting areas where changes are needed.

As a result of our analysis and ADA web accessibility audit, depending on your requirements, you will receive:

  • VPAT Accessibility Conformance Report that details and prioritizes your website’s accessibility issues including a list of criteria and guidelines that were not met.
  • If the report results in compliance issues that you would like for us to resolve, we will provide you an estimate.
  • Once your website is compliant, we will provide a robust website accessibility policy and place it on your website. This will provide a method of contact for users who may experience accessibility difficulties on the website.