Your Website Could Get You Sued. Here’s How To Keep It From Happening.

Quick Summary

  • ADA compliance lawsuits are on the rise and are now targeting small business owners.
  • Compliance guidelines for ADA is currently difficult and legally in a bit of limbo, but that hasn’t stopped the incredible growth of lawsuits climbing 177% between 2017 and 2018.
  • Businesses that are sued could end up paying $2,000 to $20,000.
  • Legal recommendations from the Department of Justice are to follow a technical specifications guide that is 19,000+ words in length and in itself difficult for many business owners to understand.
  • Becoming compliant can help SEO efforts as well as helping local disabled customers.

Recent ADA Issues in the Media

Updated October 8th, 2019: The Supreme Court of the United States has refused to hear the arguments in the case between a disability activist and Domino’s Pizza which many fear will now lead to a wave of new lawsuits. Article here:

An article posted to CBS 17 on February 6th, 2019 discusses lawsuits filed by a Florida resident Emily Fuller. Emily and others like her consider themselves activists, forcing companies to make their websites accessible to the disabled via the courts. Emily has successfully sued big name companies like Chic-fil-a, The Home Depot, and Helzberg Diamonds – and now she and other activists are going after small business owners.

Some of the recent targets are the Clearwater Shoe Store in Clearwater, Fl, Sassy Pants in Orlando, FL, and Tampa Sportservice, Inc. inside of Amalie Arena, Tampa, FL. These are not big name companies, these are much smaller businesses.

According to the article (which you can read here) lawsuits like these have cost defendants anywhere from $2,000 to $20,000.

Is this legal? The answer is: Yes. While the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 doesn’t directly mention websites or website accessibility for the disabled, so far courts have interpreted Title III to include websites.

I know that sounds scary.

The good news is we’re going to tell you exactly how to avoid being sued over ADA compliance in just a moment. Also more good news, according to the ADA, most often a small business can only be sued for attorney fees and whatever it cost to become compliant as long as the compliance takes place in a specified amount of time (typically between 60 and 90 days).

Want to avoid a lawsuit and make sure your website is ADA compliant?

The Current State of ADA Legal Issues

Lawsuits in this area are escalating. A study of cases being filed over ADA compliance issues on websites last year showed an increase of 177% between 2017 and 2018. Last year alone over 2,200 businesses were sued, many small businesses just like yours. So far this year ADA website related lawsuits have risen 31% in Q1 over 2018 and there doesn’t appear to be an end in sight.

Current advisement for a website to be ADA compliant comes from a Department of Justice letter to Congressman Ted Budd dated September 25th, 2018. In this letter the Department of Justice is responding to Congressman Budd’s questions about a court decision in Robles vs. Domino’s Pizza. In this case the District Court heard arguments around claims that Domino’s was in violation of Title III of the Americans With Disability Act of 1990 because their website and app were not accessible to the visually impaired. The plaintiff, Robles, had requested injunctive relief from the court that would force Domino’s to adopt a protocol known as WCAG 2.0 for accessibility. The court dismissed the case on grounds that the DOJ had not yet specified any technical standards with which to make a website accessible even though they had announced they would do so in 2010 and providing the requested injunction would violate Domino’s due process rights, however, they agreed that Domino’s was in violation of the ADA’s Title III. The letter from the DOJ to Congressman Budd appears to provide that official recommendation, though in an informal manner. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals then overruled the District Court’s decision after arguments were heard October of 2018 and applied relief on behalf of Robles forcing Domino’s to use WCAG 2.0 protocol for accessibility. The problem is that the W3C upgraded from WCAG 2.0 to WCAG 2.1 in June of 2018 providing some confusion about which technical standard companies should implement.

The legal issues around the ADA’s Title III and how it applies to websites are still ongoing and it is widely expected that Domino’s will petition the Supreme Court on the matter at some point in 2019.

This makes becoming compliant and avoiding a lawsuit incredibly difficult and confusing for any size business, especially a small business. While the legal wrangling continues the Department of Justice and the courts have stated this is not an excuse for a business to not be compliant with Title III of the ADA. The activists filing lawsuits have yet to lose a case they’ve started and have stood against some of the biggest U.S. companies. These two things combined mean more lawsuits are imminent and your business is essentially in the cross-hairs of activists working to make the web better for the visually impaired, it is no longer IF your business will be sued over ADA issues, but a matter of when (unless of course Congress or the Supreme Court acts soon).

Here's How To Make Your Small Business Website ADA Compliant

While the courts and the Department of Justice have recommended using WCAG 2.0 for ADA Title III compliance on a website or app, the protocol is outdated by about 11 years. WCAG 2.1 includes WCAG 2.0 and 17 more ways to make a website or app accessible to the visually and mentally impaired. Which means if your website is WCAG 2.1 compliant you’re likely meeting the current legal recommendations and protecting against any future lawsuits for not implementing additional protocols as they are added in WCAG 2.1 or future versions.

Making your small business ADA compliant currently means ensuring that your website complies with WCAG 2.1 protocols. WCAG stands for “Web Content Accessibility Guidelines” and version 2.1 was published on June 5th, 2018 by the W3C, a worldwide non-profit that establishes internet standards. The documentation is roughly 19,600 words long and is not a light read in any sense. The W3C has published a more easily digestible “quick reference” guide which you can find here if you’d like to tackle ADA compliance on your own.

It’s important to note that for ADA compliance on a website you’re going to be largely focusing on text content and non-text content. Visually impaired individuals surf the internet by using screen reader software which breaks down website content into text and reads it aloud to them. Your efforts will focus on making it easier for these screen readers to understand your website and to use your services.

15 Ways To Ensure Your Website is ADA Compliant

1. Provide Text Alternatives for Non-Text Content.

All Non-Text Content Needs a Text Alternative. Once you know that visually impaired internet users use screen reader software that relies on text, it may become apparent that your website needs to have text that can help these users understand and navigate your website. All images should have an Alt Attribute describing them and all Videos and Audio clips should have text transcripts.

2. Provide A Sensory Experience For Everyone.

Any Content meant to induce a sensory response must have a text equivalent. For example a photograph of a mountain that to a visual person induces a sense of difficulty and wonder should be accompanied with text that attempts to induce the same experience for someone who is visually impaired or blind.

3. Make All Content Distinguishable.

All of your content must be distinguishable. This means that your color palette need to be such that foreground and background are easily separated from one another visually. It also means that areas of content that have different context or purposes should be easily distinguished such as ads and the main content of a page or an email signup form versus a form for leaving a comment.

4. Ensure Your Website Functions.

Every function on your website must be operable by a keyboard. Some users are unable to use a mouse or touchpad and must navigate a website via a keyboard. Make sure that it is easy to use tab, enter, and other common keystrokes to complete tasks on your website.

5. Provide Easy To Use Navigation.

Your website must be easy to navigate, make it as easy as possible to find desired content, and must provide a way of knowing what part of a website a user is on. One popular way of doing this is with breadcrumb navigation links. Websites that practice the use of “dark patterns” to hide some content are likely in violation of WCAG 2.1.

6. Use Proper Headings.

Your website should make good usage of HTML heading tags that are descriptive of the topic or purpose. That means using H1, H2, H3, H4, et al.. tags to appropriately explain the purpose of the content that follows and to have them in an order that makes sense. For example if your documents main topic is “Disaster Preparation” then this or a similar phrase would be your H1. A subheading, or H2, for this main topic might be “Fire Preparation” and a subheading of this H2, or an H3 tag, might be “How to Make a Map That Displays the Location of Fire Extinguishers in a Building”.

7. Ensure That Your Links Are Descriptive.

Anchor text for links should be descriptive about where the user will be taken to. Often times this means not using short or so called “fat head” keywords and instead using longer phrases to inform a user. Disabled users use what is known as a dialog box while reading a page that displays a list of links on that page. If all the user hears is something like “click here” or “go here now” as they go through the page it may become confusing to them as to how best to navigate.

In some cases it is ok to be ambiguous about where the user is going as long as it is in context. For example a profile about a company with a link titled “Website” implies that the user will be going to that company’s website and due to this context should be ok. If you place a link with call-to-action text AFTER a statement regarding it, then this usage is likely to also be ok. For example “Get our latest offer on our best widgets” followed by a link that says “click here”

8. Make Your Content Readable By Everyone.

Your content should be readable and understandable by everyone. That means if you’ve written content in a sophisticated manner or used a lot of rarely used words, phrasing, or other verbiage that you provide a text summary more easily understood. To help users at a lower reading level understand your content you should also provide illustrations, charts, and graphs (with their own appropriate text for compliance) and a spoken version of the text. In some cases trying to explain things more simply removes meaning, so be careful to keep the meaning and spirit of your content in tact while writing a summary.

9. Include Content Sign Language Speakers.

WCAG 2.1 also recommends including a sign-language video of your content for users who use this as their first language, though this is likely optional for your website. Most websites do not offer sign language versions of their content as it is currently expensive, labor intensive, and difficult to produce. Current recommendations are to hire a sign language interpreter to create videos for your main content and allow those videos to be embedded or linked to from your page. You may also opt to only use sign language to interpret hard to understand words or phrases or main points of a piece of content. The W3C recommends at least providing Contact information, Help / FAQ content, Technical details of a product, and all religious content in sign language format. However, if text versions for non-text content, and any one of these; illustrations, spoken word audio version, or easier to understand summary is available then sign language is not required and is considered optional.

10. Provide Pronunciation and Definition.

For hard to pronounce words your website should use a Glossary and provide a way of helping users pronounce and understand words. You can create the glossary on one page with anchor links and link to it from documents where you use the word, provide a phonetic or alternate text for pronunciation help in parenthesis immediately following the word, provide a glossary at the end of a document, or simply provide a glossary on your website.

11. Avoid Causing Seizures.

Your content should not be designed in a way known to cause seizures or other Physical Reactions. WCAG 2.1 recommends a ‘three flashes threshold’ meaning if something needs to flash it should only do it three times then stop or wait a significant period of time before flashing again.

12. Allow Users to Control Timed Content.

Content that requires a specific period of time should allow a user to pause it, reset it, stop it, control the speed, or hide it unless it is essential. Think about a ticker of news items or a slider of images.

13. Allow Easy Restarting of Sessions and Warn About Timeouts.

A user should be able to restart an authenticated session without loss of data. Before any session times out a warning should be displayed that allows the user to dismiss the time out and stay in the session. Many banks and financial websites use similar mechanisms to this.

14. Make Your Page Operations Predictable.

Your webpages should appear and operate in a predictable manner. Your webpages shouldn’t change context when focus or zoom is used, groups of similar pages should be consistently labeled, and any changes of context should not be initiated automatically but be initiated by a user action.

15. Maintain Robust Accessibility and Web Standards.

Your webpages should not block any screen reading software or user agents from reading them and should use well formed HTML and Rich Markup such as or Microformatting. Your webpages should keep up with WCAG standards, HTML standards, and rich formatting standards and best practices as they evolve.

There are many other protocols included in WCAG 2.1, however, the above 15 points should bring most small business websites into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act’s Title III. If you are not sure how to implement these suggestions or are unsure if your website has other needs then you need to consult with an expert in the field. We include ADA compliance work in our monthly SEO subscriptions to help alleviate these issues.

Our Local SEO packages come with our ADA protection plan. We'll work to make your website WCAG 2.1 compliant and maintain compliance while increasing your traffic and calls from Google and other search engines.
For only $150 per month.

The great news is that working to become ADA and WCAG 2.1 compliant will also help with your local SEO efforts. Google and other search engines love to see images with alt attributes, videos with transcripts, and websites with easy to understand navigation.

Have more than one business location or want to know more about our other local SEO subscriptions and pricing? Go to our Local SEO Subscription Page to Learn More.

Quick Ways to Tell if Your Website is Not ADA Compliant

Here are some quick free ways to know if your website is NOT ADA or WCAG 2.1 compliant

1. Your website is built in all Adobe Flash

2. Your website was created using a website building software or tool from the late 1990’s or early 2000’s.

3. Ask your web designer, app developer, or SEO if they know about image alt attributes. If they hesitate, say no, or sound uncertain there’s a good chance you are not compliant.

4. You see lots of flashing mechanisms on your website.

5. Your home page has a slider without a pause feature.

6. Your website is considered “not mobile friendly” by Google

7. Areas of content on your website overlap with each other and look messy, jumbled, or out of orientation.

8. Download the NV Access free screen reader software and use it on your website.

9. Ask a friend that is visually impaired or that uses screen reader software due to other impairments to review your website and tell you what problems they run in to.

10. Get a Free ADA Compliance Evaluation from the Gain Local team. We’d love to help you better understand how to make your website accessible and avoid any costly future lawsuits.

Legal Notice:
Because there is no official legal technical specification and because WCAG is an evolving standard; no one and no company, including us, can guarantee that your website is ADA compliant or that your business will not be sued. However, by following WCAG 2.1 and other latest standards as best you are able to, you may likely avoid a lawsuit or be able to provide sufficient evidence to a court to avoid an injunction or other negative outcomes from a lawsuit. We are marketers not lawyers and nothing on this page is intended to be legal advice. We recommend that you consult with an attorney familiar with ADA cases if you have any legal questions regarding your website and ADA compliance.

Ask Us Anything About ADA Compliance or Local SEO


    1. “Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1” by W3C. Published June 8th, 2018. Retrieved on June 10th, 2019.

    2. “How to Meet WCAG (Quick Reference)” by W3C. Updated June 12th, 2019. Retrieved on June 13th, 2019.

    3. “ADA Lawsuits Are on the Rise, Website Complaints Biggest Targets” by Victoria Hudgins on Published January 24th, 2019.

    4. “2018 ADA Web Accessibility Recap Lawsuit Report” by UsableNet (PDF). Publish Date [unknown].

    5. “ADA-Based Web Accessibility Claims Continue Record-Breaking Rise in 2019” by Jason Taylor on UsableNet. April 10th, 2019.

    6. “Domino’s To Ask Supreme Court To Consider Whether ADA Website/Mobile App Accessibility Lawsuits Violate Due Process” by Minh N. Vu on March 21st, 2019.

    7. “The WebAIM Million: An accessibility analysis of the top 1,000,000 home pages” by WebAIM. Updated February 27th, 2019. Retrieved June 11th, 2019.

    8. Department of Justice letter written to Congressman Ted Budd. September 25th, 2018. Retrieved from on June 10th, 2019.

    9. “The Muddy Waters of ADA Website Compliance May Become Less Murky in 2019” by Jason P. Brown & Robert T. Quackenboss on January 3rd, 2019.

    10. “A Beginner’s Guide to ADA Compliance for Websites” by John Leo Weber on August 12th, 2017.