Business owners have a lot on their plate. They need to think about hiring (if applicable), inventory, tax planning, finding clients, keeping clients, expanding their business, getting business loans, and a myriad of other things. The last thing they need to worry about is a lawsuit; however, lawsuits are a fact of life and are quite common in the business world. Now, business owners can be sued if their websites aren’t ADA-friendly. CBS17 has the full story.
The Disabled, Websites, and the Law
ADA stands for Americans with Disabilities Act. It was passed in 1990 and its mission is to protect the disabled against all types of discrimination. ADA is focused on providing reasonable accommodations to those are have a disability. Since 1990, numerous companies have been sued due to not abiding by the laws within the Americans with Disabilities Act. In our Information Age, the law has since been applied to companies that operate in the digital realm.
The lawsuits in question pertain to actual websites that aren’t ADA-friendly. What does that mean, exactly? Let’s use a visually-impaired person as an example. If this person has specialized software that assists them to surf the web, and the website doesn’t work with the software, the visually-impaired person may claim discrimination because the website doesn’t work for them. This is especially true when it comes to important websites like government or company websites.
Shannon Behnken of CBS17 writes, “last year, there were 2,285 ADA website lawsuits filed in federal courts across the nation, an increase of a 181 percent from 2017, according to website accessibility company UsableNet. The majority of lawsuits originate in Florida and New York.”
This tells me two things. The first is that lawyers are catching on and this is a potential goldmine for prosecutors. And the second is that a great number of websites are in legal trouble if the pace keeps up. Eventually, if this becomes a big deal, websites will have to include ADA-approved capability in their code. The good news is this: Large CMS platforms like WordPress will probably include this type of capability across the board in future updates.
Emily Fuller and the Courts
Emily Fuller is a disabled resident of Broward County, Florida. She’s very serious about websites complying with the Americans with Disabilities Act. That’s because she’s on the forefront of getting websites to accommodate people like her. But she’s doing it the hard way, for companies that own the websites. She’s taking them to court. As a matter of fact, Emily Fuller is currently suing 185 business owners whose websites do not comply with ADA.
Ben Tundis is one of the business owners being sued by Emily Fuller. Shannon Behnken continues, “The attorneys are telling us, ‘You can’t fight this. There’s nothing you can do, just write them a check,’” said Ben Tundis, owner of Island Comfort Footwear in the Westfield Countryside Mall in Clearwater. Fuller, in her lawsuit filed Jan. 4, claims that she was not able to use the recently launched website of Tundis’ shoe store.”
What’s interesting about this case is that the company being sued is a shoe store. Island Comfort Footwear is not a website that’s required. It would be more understandable, for example, if the local DMV or library website were the ones sued for not being ADA compliant. After all, those are government websites and public services. Island Comfort Footwear is a private company. That being said, people like Emily Fuller are successful in court, so far.
Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 (WCAG)
Courts are still figuring out what type of precedents to have when it comes to websites being ADA compliant. However, courts have taken Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 into consideration in the past. Here are the main requirements for WCAG:
“*Content must be coded for audio translation by screen-reader software.
*There must be on-screen captions in videos for screen-reader software to read to the blind and descriptions for the deaf.
*Sites must include accessible drop-down menus for those who use a keyboard as an alternative to a mouse.”
It’s probable that courts will use a combination of guidelines from both WCAG and the ADA law in the future.
Resources for Websites
As mentioned before, Content Management Systems like WordPress will likely include a mass update in the future with regards to disability access. Other websites, like those built with HTML, will need to find a more customized solution. However, there are resources available.
For example, “The National Federation of the Blind has resources on its website to help businesses. Locally, the Lighthouse for the Blind can review websites and offer guidance.” Get ADA Accessible is another resources for companies and web developers to get their website in compliance with the law.
But what is the law? That’s a question that currently being answered, case by case. Again, there were just over a couple of thousand websites that were sued last year. To put it in perspective, however, there are millions of websites out there. The change of getting sued for non-ADA compliance is extremely small, for now.
Featured photo by David Mark on Pixabay