According to Accessibility.com in 2022, there were 2,387 lawsuits filed in the United States related to web accessibility violations.
The number of ADA lawsuits has been increasing in recent years, particularly in relation to web accessibility. With the growing reliance on digital platforms and the increased recognition of websites as places of public accommodation, there has been a rise in litigation targeting inaccessible websites. ADA compliance lawsuits can be filed by individuals with disabilities, disability rights organizations, advocacy groups, or other entities. Some individuals or groups actively monitor websites for accessibility issues and may initiate legal actions against non-compliant businesses. Lawsuits can result in financial penalties, legal settlements, and requirements to bring websites into compliance with accessibility standards.
New York led with filing 1,660 web accessibility lawsuits. The same three law firms filed more than 69% of the total lawsuits in the US.
What is web accessibility?
Web accessibility refers to the practice of designing and developing websites in a way that ensures equal access and usability for all individuals, regardless of their abilities or disabilities. It is about creating an inclusive online environment that allows everyone to perceive, understand, navigate, and interact with web content effectively.
Why is web accessibility so important?
It’s important for businesses to understand the importance of web accessibility and take proactive measures to ensure compliance with ADA requirements. By prioritizing accessibility and implementing best practices, businesses can mitigate the risk of lawsuits and provide equal access to individuals with disabilities. Seeking guidance from web accessibility professionals well-versed in ADA compliance and\or utilizing web accessibility software is recommended to stay informed about legal obligations and potential risks.
What should I as a business owner be most concerned about?
ADA-Compliance and Section 508 are two important laws that require organizations to make their websites and digital products accessible for users with disabilities. Businesses and especially nonprofit organizations with 501(c3) status must comply with these regulations in order to avoid any potential lawsuits. Failing to do so can result in hefty fines or even legal action taken against them.
In this article, we will discuss the importance of ADA-Compliance and Section 508, what it means for businesses and nonprofits, and how you can ensure that your website is compliant with these regulations. We will also look at the risks of not complying with these laws, including potential legal action taken against them due to non-compliance. Accessibility for people with disabilities is important for organizations, both small and large.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a law enacted in 1990 by the United States Congress, and it mandates accessibility requirements for public accommodations and commercial facilities that are open to the general public. The ADA also requires that digital products available via the internet or other digital mediums be accessible to people with disabilities, including customers using assistive technology such as screen readers or Braille devices. In order to comply with these regulations, organizations must ensure the availability of their websites’ content using assistive technology – this includes software and hardware – for people with visual or other accessibility needs. The guidelines, Guidance on Web Accessibility and the ADA, are available in full on the government website ADA.gov. To download the guide visit the ADA.gov website.
Nearly 67% of all website accessibility lawsuits were filed by five law firms out of New York and California.
Importance of ADA compliance & Section 508
What are federal laws around web accessibility?
In the United States, web accessibility is primarily governed by two federal laws:
Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
The ADA prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in various areas of public life, including places of public accommodation. While the ADA does not specifically mention websites or digital accessibility, courts have interpreted it to apply to websites as well. In recent years, there have been lawsuits and legal settlements indicating that inaccessible websites can be considered a violation of the ADA.
Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act
Section 508 applies to federal agencies and requires them to make their electronic and information technology (EIT) accessible to individuals with disabilities. This includes websites, software applications, and other digital content developed, procured, or used by federal agencies. The standards for accessibility under Section 508 are based on the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0.
It’s worth noting that the ADA applies to both public and private entities, while Section 508 specifically applies to federal agencies. However, even private entities that are not directly covered by Section 508 may still face legal action under the ADA if their websites are considered inaccessible.
In addition to federal laws, some states in the U.S. have their own accessibility requirements and regulations. For example, California has the Unruh Civil Rights Act and the California Disabled Persons Act, which can be used to enforce web accessibility standards.
Which states have specific laws around web accessibility?
While the majority of the United States do not have specific state-level laws around web accessibility on the books, there are several states with additional protections for those with disabilities. The following states have specific laws or regulations that address web accessibility to varying degrees:
California has specific state laws that address web accessibility. The Unruh Civil Rights Act and the California Disabled Persons Act apply to businesses and organizations operating within the state. These laws provide protections for individuals with disabilities and can be used to enforce web accessibility standards.
Massachusetts has the Massachusetts Equal Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination based on disability. While it does not explicitly mention web accessibility, courts in Massachusetts have recognized that inaccessible websites can violate this law.
Minnesota has a state law called the Minnesota Human Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination based on disability. Although it does not specifically address web accessibility, courts in Minnesota have recognized that websites can be considered places of public accommodation and subject to accessibility requirements.
New York has the New York State Human Rights Law, which prohibits discrimination based on disability. While it does not explicitly mention web accessibility, courts in New York have recognized that inaccessible websites can violate this law.
Consumer Goods, Services & Retail maintain the top spot as the most-targeted industry group in 2022, registering 423 more lawsuits than in 2021 and accounting for 58% of the year’s total cases.
How can I ensure my business is compliant with the American Disabilities Act (ADA)?
There are several ways to check that your website is compliant with ADA requirements. You can do any of the following:
- Ask an accessibility expert
- Run an accessibility audit
- Purchase accessibility software
Based on the results of the accessibility, you have the ability to make updates to your website to improve accessibility for your website.
To achieve web accessibility, web developers and designers can follow established guidelines, such as the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) developed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). The WCAG provides a set of recommendations and success criteria that can be used to evaluate and improve the accessibility of websites.
Some specific techniques and considerations for web accessibility include:
- Providing alternative text descriptions for images, ensuring they convey the same information as the images.
- Using proper heading structure to organize content and provide hierarchical context.
- Implementing keyboard accessibility for all interactive elements, allowing users to navigate and interact without a mouse.
- Ensuring color contrast between text and background for readability.
- Adding captions or transcripts for multimedia content, such as videos or audio files.
- Designing forms and input fields that are easily understandable and navigable.
- Testing the website with assistive technologies, such as screen readers, to identify and address accessibility barriers.
Web accessibility is crucial for creating an inclusive and equal online experience for everyone. By considering the needs of users with disabilities during the design and development process, websites can be more accessible, usable, and welcoming to a broader audience.
To learn more about web accessibility, you can use some of these resources below.
Resources & Guidance on Web Accessibility
U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division – ADA.gov
- Guidance on Web Accessibility and the ADA – (https://www.ada.gov/resources/web-guidance/)
- Introduction to the Americans with Disabilities Act – (https://www.ada.gov/topics/intro-to-ada/)
- 18F Accessibility Guide: a comprehensive accessibility guide with resources published by 18F, a digital services agency under the General Services Administration (GSA).
- Digital.gov: this site, which is part of the Technology Transformation Services at the GSA, has resources on design of products, devices, services, or environments for people with disabilities.
- Section 508 Information and Communication Technology Accessibility Standards: standards published by the U.S. Access Board addressing access to information and communication technology under Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.
- Section508.gov: a website published by the GSA with tools and training on implementing website accessibility requirements under Section 508.
- Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG): guidelines published by the Web Accessibility Initiative of the World Wide Web Consortium.