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Don’t Feed the Sharks: What You Need to Know About Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), Digital Accessibility, and Your Website

Get your ear to the wall business owners! Websites not complying with digital accessibility standards are swiftly becoming lawsuit bait.

In the beginning…

It was 20 years ago that websites were first thought of as public “places” open to “visitors.” But if they are, a question naturally arises: Are people with disabilities able to freely access the internet, just like everyone else? 

The answer to that was, and still is, no: a whopping 97% of website home pages are not accessible to the disabled.

And while that is changing at a rapid rate, large numbers of websites have user interfaces that do not accommodate the disabled population (which, by the way, statistics show is about 22% of American people). 

To address this, the  World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), which is the main international standards organization for the Internet, launched the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) to create a new set of website user interface standards called the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).  (Go ahead and take a gander at the guidelines…. I will wait here while your head spins!) 

When the WCAG was first issued, the websites that complied were mostly government sites. But in 2018, the Department of Justice got involved and announced that websites fall under the American with Disabilities Act of 1990.

It didn’t take long for the legal fallout to hit. In 2018 Robles v. Dominos Pizza, a case in which a blind man sued Dominos for not being able to order a pizza with his favorite toppings through the Dominos site, was heard in court. Robles won; Dominos appealed; Robles won again. In a letter of reply to Congress that references this case, The Department of Justice states:

the Department (of Justice) has consistently taken the position that the absence of a specific regulation does not serve as a basis for noncompliance. 1  

1 In Robles v. Dominos Pizza, which you referenced in your letter, the court did not dispute that websites of public accommodations that provide goods or services are subject to the ADA’s accessibility requirements.

In other words, you cannot use the fact that there are no specific regulations in place as your defense for a noncompliant website. When the court agreed “websites that offer goods and services to the public are subject to the ADA’s accessibility requirements,” it opened the door to a deluge of lawsuits.

Those doors remain wide open. The number of WCAG-related lawsuits being filed has risen 300% since 2018.

Now more than ever website owners better be aware of the legal liability posed by their non-compliant websites. 

What’s worse, non-compliant websites have become bait for those who want to make a living suing business owners.

Not convinced that you will not get sued for non-compliance with the accessibility standards?

Dominos is only one of many companies that have been sued.  Businesses from mom and pop shops to huge enterprise level companies across all industry verticals are facing potential lawsuits.  Here are the industries that are generating most of the complaints and more likely than not, you fall under one of them! Check out these articles if you want to see just how widespread lawsuits are becoming:

Web Agencies: Web design service providers at risk of lawsuits due to ADA compliance as reported on The Yucatan Times

Auto Industry: ADA lawsuits prompt dealerships to make websites more accessible as reported on AutoNews

E-commerce: Your eCommerce Website May Be At Risk Of an ADA Lawsuit as reported on The Medium

Financial Institutions:  Financial Institutions Websites and the ADA – Is Your Website Accessible as reported on The Milwaukee Business Journal

Enterprise: Popstar To Pizza To Porn: Complying With The ADA In The Digital Age as reported by Forbes

Healthcare: 4 Healthcare Companies Sued Over ADA Website Compliance (and Why it Matters!) as reported by Healthcare Weekly

Hospitality: Lawsuits targeting business websites over ADA violations are on the rise as reported on The LA Times

Online Business: How Website Accessibility Affects Online Businesses In 2019 And How To Respond as reported on Forbes

Real Estate Industry: Is Your Website ADA Compliant as reported on Norris McLaughlin Attorneys at Law

Small Business: How Accessibility Can Make (or Break) Your Small-Business Website as reported on Small Business Trends and How your small business website can get you sued as reported on The Philadelphia Enquirer

Law Enforcement: What Law Enforcement Executives Need To Know About Website Accessibility Claims as reported on JD Supra

Federal Agencies: Information Regarding Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act as reported on The U.S. Department of Justice website

COVID19: ADA Website Liability and COVID19 as reported on Gibbons Law, P.C.

Take steps today to protect your website—and your business

From my research, most lawsuits since Robles v. Dominos are settled out of court. But however they’re settled, fighting these lawsuits is costly and takes time away from other business priorities.

And even if your business isn’t flagged for ADA compliance, we should all be dedicated to making our websites accessible to the disabled because it is the right thing to do. 

Bottom line? If you haven’t paid attention to this issue, your business is failing to support the needs of up to 22% of your prospective website visitors—and your time is running out. Get with your web developer and get your site compliant, email me at kathleen@ballos.com for some recommendations.  

Resources to explore:

AccessiBe the tool I recommend to all my clients

Wave – a free tool to check your website for ADA and WCAG compliance

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