The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has seen many changes since 1990 to curtail discriminatory and predatory practices. One of these changes was the inclusion of business websites that weren’t operable or perceivable by people with disabilities.
But why should you care?
Well, a non-compliant website makes you potentially liable for fines of thousands of dollars if not more. And these fines aren’t uncommon either. In fact, ADA website lawsuits are on the rise.
In 2019, there were 2,285 ADA website lawsuits against companies like Sephora, Helzberg Diamonds, The Home Depot, and Chick-fil-A in the United States, an increase of 181% over the past year.
So what can be done to avoid fines? A few things, actually. Follow the steps in this guide to make your website compliant with ADA regulations and guidelines.
We’ve also added common traps and errors that you should look out for.
In essence, ADA compliance means making your service or product accessible to people with disabilities.
The act has, for decades, provided organizations guidelines and standards that make their physical offerings usable by disabled individuals, but the act was amended to include websites in 2008, with effects made effective in 2009.
Though guidelines have been published by the Department of Justice, there are no “rules” when it comes to what an ADA compliant website looks like just guidelines and regulations.
The most common set of these guidelines is defined in the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 (WCAG) which is soon expected to be updated to version 2.1 with some new additions.
The biggest danger for businesses with non-compliant websites comes from hundreds of lawyers who are on the lookout for websites that aren’t ADA compliant to sue them.
Many of these lawyers will file a case on behalf of someone with a disability and then seek compensation in the form of attorney fees and compliance since private businesses cannot be sued for damages on these grounds.
According to experts, ADA website lawsuits are generally settled for between a few thousand dollars and $20,000. This would change if the defendants decide to fight the case in court, in which the costs can rise significantly.
In many cases, hundreds of cases are filed by a single attorney working with the same disabled individual with the sole motive of enriching themselves.
This is nothing short of extortion which is why businesses are urged to take a thorough look at their website and fix anything that makes the website less accessible.
Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 was recently updated with a few more additions but version 2.0 is still the most widely used set of guidelines.
However, to make it easier for readers to understand what makes a website more accessible, we’ve chosen to list the criteria of Web Accessibility Standards which is a toned-down or simpler version of WCAG.
In essence, most of the criteria are the same and revolves around making the website and its content perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust.
WAS’s guidelines can be divided into 5 sections. Here’s a brief summary of the guidelines.
You can read more on Web Accessibility Guidelines on accessible.org
According to plaintiff Cedric Bishop, the lack of descriptive alt text for images and other elements on Amazon’s website made it impossible for people using screen readers to choose and buy products since back then, Amazon did not provide text versions of images and used images without text as web navigation elements.
Alt tags are often the culprit behind most ADA compliance lawsuits but we chose the ADA lawsuit against Amazon from 2018 because Amazon is arguably the biggest online store on the planet and this was one of the biggest cases of alt tag blunders.
Closed captions are crucial in enjoying video content for anyone with impaired hearing and three big names have been sued at different times for the same reason.
In 2011, the National Association of the Deaf filed a lawsuit against Netflix claiming that the website is discriminating against 1 million people by not providing closed captions on all of its video content. Netflix argued that ADA shouldn’t apply to websites but the court ruled in favor of NAD.
A few years later, in 2015, a lawsuit was filed against Amazon on the same grounds as Netflix. However, Amazon Prime already had closed captions so the lawsuit instead targetted Amazon’s archive of Instant Video, which at the time had 190,000 movies and TV shows. Amazon settled and worked to provide closed captions on all of its content.
The same lawyer who led the legal team against Netflix in 2011 teamed up with NAD to file another lawsuit, this time against Hulu for not having closed captions. Hulu settled with NAD and agreed to update all of its content with closed captions by September 2017.
In 2017, two of Nike’s websites were taken to court for not being accessible by disabled users, particularly by blind users. The lawsuit included a number of inaccessible elements and mistakes on Nike.com and Converse.com like empty links that contain no text, redundant links that connect to the same pages as adjacent links, and linked images that have no alt-text.
The ADA compliance lawsuit against Sephora was another case in New York against a big name brand in 2018. The plaintiff, a blind woman, argued that Sephora’s website failed to meet accessibility standards required by federal and state disability laws. According to the plaintiff, the website had no alt-text, keyboard-only use, and accessible forms with checkboxes and drop-down menus.
The website of fast-food chain Chick-Fil-A was also one of the companies held responsible for discriminating against disabled people by not having an accessible website. Chick-Fil-A’s website too had a number of issues in its design. Issues like lack of alt-text on images, inaccessible forms, the lack of adequate prompting and labeling; the denial of keyboard access; and the requirement that transactions be performed solely with a mouse.
The alt text lawsuit wasn’t’ Amazon’s first encounter with ADA compliance. Back in 2016, Amazon faced another lawsuit, this time filed by the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) that argued that Amazon’s Kindle converter (MobiConvertor) did not work well with external documents except the most basic documents and made it impossible for visually impaired individuals to read documents on the device.
The company took action to improve its convertor and worked with NFB to develop better technology for visually impaired individuals.
I know what you might be thinking ADA compliance is overwhelming. And these lawsuits might even seem predatory to large businesses but it’s important to understand one key aspect there are millions of people who cannot access important information if your website isn’t accessible for the.
In fact, one in eight people in the United States (13 per cent, or 30 million) aged 12 years or older have hearing loss in both ears and more than 3.4 million (3%) Americans aged 40 years and older are visually impaired with millions more under the age of 40.
And on top of all this, ADA website compliance does not have to be hard. Yes, there are multiple benchmarks and regulations that your website needs to comply with (like ADA, WCAG 2.1 & Section 508) and the website would need to be audited regularly to remove broken elements (like empty links).
But none of this has to take all of your time. You can hire experts or you can even use AI-based compliance tools to make every element of your website compliant and keep it that way all year round, automatically. We actually use this tool on our own website (click on the blue icon on the bottom left).
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