On March 18, 2022, the Department of Justice (DOJ) issued guidance on website accessibility and compliance as it relates to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). In it, they speak to how both state and local governments (entities covered by ADA Title II) and businesses open to the public (entities covered by ADA Title III) can make sure that their websites are accessible to people with disabilities as required by the ADA. While this was not the first time that ADA compliance for websites has been discussed, it is the first time an official stance at the federal level has been voiced about ADA compliance for government and business websites. There are many disabilities covered, and the primary categories that require attention are:
For organizations and businesses—small, medium and large—this should make the need to have an ADA compliant website a top priority today.
The idea that businesses are intentionally discriminating against people with disabilities is not the concern. But when website accessibility is not present on a business’s website, it may be violating Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and that opens them up to legal risk. In fact, some of the largest brands have already been sued for website accessibility law violations (e.g., Amazon, Target, Netflix, Nike and Domino’s Pizza), but it’s mostly been small to mid-sized businesses (SMBs) that have been targeted. While this may be viewed as just nuisance suits by some, for small to mid-sized businesses these actions can be very disruptive and costly. SMBs have been subjected to an increase of 300% in accessibility lawsuits in recent years with settlements being anywhere between $25,000-$150,000. The rise in cases has been significant enough to prompt the National Retail Federation to issue a warning to businesses advising them take web accessibility as a serious legal and financial threat.
According to a report from Accessibility.com, there was a 14.3% increase from 2020 to 2021 in the number of lawsuits filed against U.S. businesses. However, what now seems to present an even greater risk to businesses is the growing number of demand letters being issuing by plaintiff firms. Demand letters typically include results of automated accessibility compliance scans generated by plaintiff firms. They essentially threaten litigation against companies to extract easy settlements. This extortion-like practice far exceeds the number of federal and state lawsuits being filed and takes very little time and cost to generate. Now, with the DOJ taking an official stance on the importance of website accessibility, we expect to see an even more significant rise in the number of lawsuits and demand letters related to noncompliance in the months and years to come.
To reduce your business’s legal risk, you want to make sure your website doesn’t prevent anyone from consuming, navigating or obtaining any of the information you share. The best way to do this is by conforming to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). In a nutshell, there are four criteria standards that need to be in place for a website to be ADA compliant. They are:
While conformance with all the WCAG guidelines is voluntary, compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act isn’t optional. If your organization’s website is not accessible to people with disabilities, it is at risk of being interpreted as active discrimination against people with disabilities—putting you and your business at risk of being sued.
The CDC reports approximately 60 million people in the U.S have some form of a disability. That accounts for about 25% of the population that is likely being ignored by your competitors’ websites and could represent potential new customers or employees for your business. Beyond just straight additional sales, having an ADA compliant website can have many beneficial effects on your business, such as improving SEO, building goodwill, creating and enhancing a positive reputation and opening your business to an untapped segment within your market space. Additionally, inclusivity creates a better work environment and shopping experience which can help to grow and expand your business in new and unique ways. There may also be tax incentives available for businesses that make ADA specific expenditures.
Since the number of people experiencing some form of disability is expected to grow, businesses can expect more guidelines, legislation and incentives soon. For those that choose to kick the can down the road regarding accessibility compliance, you can bet at least one of your competitors won’t—and where does that leave you? Prioritizing web accessibility can not only reduce your business’s legal risk, it can also improve your customer experience, strengthen your company’s brand and boost employee productivity—and, it’s the right thing to do.
Interested in learning more or to see how your website stacks up with today’s accessibility standards? Reach out to Jonathan Ebenstein at firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss a free website accessibility audit. Following the audit, we can install a free 7-day trial on your site so that you can see firsthand how it addresses your site’s accessibility challenges.
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