How to Avoid ADA Website Accessibility Lawsuits

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While nearly every business and franchise has a website, most websites are not ADA accessible. Under US law, websites must be accessible to every user, including those with disabilities. If your website is not ADA compliant, your business is opened up to potential lawsuits.

Considering 98.1% of the one million website homepages tested by WebAIM had ADA accessibility failures, nearly every site has improvements to make. The 2019 WebAIM report concluded that there is significant work to be done in web accessibility, especially because inaccessibility and errors are slowly increasing.

https://webaim.org/projects/million/

What if I'm Not Compliant?

If your website is not ADA compliant, you’re risking a potential lawsuit. A lack of accessibility can also lead users to bounce quickly from your site, often never to return. Considering the rise in lawsuits over the last few years, it’s wise to take steps towards compliance.

California & New York: Most at Risk

Currently California, New York, and Florida are the top 3 states for ADA website compliance lawsuits. If you’re in one of these three states, we recommend auditing your site as soon as possible. Both California and New York also have state civil rights acts that mirror federal guidelines, making ADA lawsuits more common. Additionally, these state acts allow plaintiffs to seek monetary damages beyond attorney fees and court costs, so the potential risk is even higher in these two states in particular. Regardless of where your franchise operates, making sure that your website is in compliance with Title III guidelines will go a long way towards avoiding future ADA lawsuits.

How Much Could an Accessibility Lawsuit Cost Me?

The average cost of an ADA website accessibility lawsuit is $10,000 to $350,000 depending on the complexity of the case and total number of hours spent.

This figure is only for one accessibility complaint.

If you have multiple complaints in a year, this can quickly add up to a detrimental figure. If you’re a small website or franchise, this can put you out of business. Even larger websites and corporations can be set back years if they incur these costs.

Inaccessibility Impedes Access to Goods & Services

In addition to the direct costs of lawyers, fines, and penalties, your website can also lose out on revenue from potential customers, ad traffic, and lost leads. There are approximately 61 million people with a disability in the United States, according to the CDC.

If your website is not digitally accessible for those with disabilities, you are ignoring a significant portion of the market. Don’t leave money on the table!

Common ADA Failures & How to Remedy

While there are over 30 factors that should be addressed, there are common categories that most sites struggle with. The most common failures include:

  • Low Contrast Between Background & Text
  • Missing Alt Text
  • Empty Links
  • Missing Form Labels
  • Missing Document Language

https://webaim.org/projects/million/
Many of these failures can be corrected with simple design and layout changes, accessibility by screen reader, text transcripts of videos, keyboard tab navigation enablement, color contrast of text to background, descriptive anchor text, and captions.

Types of Disabilities Requiring Website Accessibility

There are a wide variety of disabilities people live with, but disabled users that need Web Content Accessibility Guidelines usually fall into certain categories. By considering these disability categories, we can more easily address their needs and corresponding solutions.

  • Impaired Vision
  • Impaired Hearing
  • Cognitive Disabilities
  • Permanent Disabilities
  • Temporary Disabilities

Users with impaired vision may have trouble reading the words on the screen or seeing images, so you need descriptive alt text and screen reader compatibility. Those with physical disabilities could struggle to use a mouse to navigate the website, so you need keyboard enabled navigation. For users that have hearing impairments, you must provide written transcripts for video and audio clips.

How to Avoid a Potential Lawsuit

The best way to avoid potential ADA website accessibility suits is to follow the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). These are an internationally-recognized set of guidelines from the W3C. While the WCAG have not been passed into law, they are cited in many court cases, making it the best guidance to follow.
There are four principles that govern accessibility: Operable, Perceivable, Understandable, and Robust. These ideas impact a variety of website aspects, including:

  • Descriptive Alt Tags for Images
  • Captions for Images and Videos
  • Content can be Presented with Assistive Technologies
  • Website Functionality is Available from Keyboard

You can read up on current regulations and WCAG, as well as check examples of compliant sites. However, there are over 30 recognized accessibility standards applying to websites, so website owners must consider a broad range of factors. With the amount of standards you must follow, your site must be intentionally optimized for accessibility.

You need an expert to help ensure you cover all your bases.

The best way to know that your website is ADA compliant is through regular auditing. These in-depth inspections allow an expert reviewer to go over your site and ensure that every piece is analyzed for compatibility. Once a site audit is completed, you can start to address the issues found.

While combing through your site and implementing solutions seems daunting, it’s imperative you’re following all accessibility guidelines. This will ensure protection from lawsuits and a quality user experience for all. But you don’t have to do it alone!

Why Do I Need an ADA Compliant Website?

Because websites are considered public accommodations according to US law, each site is subject to the ADA Title III. This law requires that public resources are accessible to all people. You must follow the guidance set forth for accessibility, otherwise non compliant websites are a lawsuit waiting to happen.

You’re Legally Required

The ADA Standards for Accessible Design were passed in 2010, requiring all information technology and websites be accessible to those with disabilities. While there are not specific guidelines on every single aspect of a website, under US law you must provide “reasonable accessibility” to those with disabilities, including hearing loss and vision impairment.

Inclusive User Experience: Bigger Audience

Accessibility can influence user experience (UX). With 20% of the world having some sort of disability, you want to ensure your content is easily accessible. Don’t cut off 1/5 of potential users or customers because they can’t access your content! Provide them with the necessary information to utilize your website to the fullest.

UX Impacts Rankings

UX is a direct, impactful ranking factor. If your site does not provide an accessible experience it can negatively impact your rankings through bounce rates, time on page, and other factors. A bad UX affects nearly every part of your online business, including traffic, leads, sales, repeat visitors, rankings, and online visibility.

Avoid Fines & Penalties

With the hefty legal expenses, business costs, and fines associated with ADA lawsuits, it’s imperative you’re following all accessibility guidelines. The financial burden can bring even the largest franchises or websites to their knees.

Tax Credit Available

A tax credit of up to $5,000 is available if you maintain an ADA compliant website. This can help to offset costs of compliance, including ADA accessibility site audits and implementation services.
https://www.ada.gov/taxcred.htm

Inclusion is the Right Thing To Do

You don’t want your business to exclude any group of people without good reason. In addition to avoiding the financial costs of a lawsuit, providing an inclusive website is the ethical thing to do.

Growing Risk of Lawsuits

Data shows there is a growing risk of ADA website lawsuits. In 2019, there were 2,256 website accessibility lawsuits filed in federal court, according to Seyfarth Shaw LLP partners Minh Vu and Kristina Launey. (link at bottom) However, in 2018 there was a 177% increase from the prior year. Experts predict 2020 will be another big year for ADA accessibility lawsuits, specifically digital accessibility.

With this type of lawsuit becoming more and more common, this is not an issue you can put off. You must take steps to address website accessibility immediately.

ARE ALL WEBSITES REQUIRED TO COMPLY?
Under US law, public accommodations are required to be accessible to disabled users. Because the government considers websites “public accommodations”, every website falls under this umbrella and must comply with ADA accessibility guidelines. No matter the size of your website or franchise, you are required to ensure digital ADA accessibility. However, the lack of formal guidelines and abundance of misinformation leads many websites to think they are exempt.

Improve Accessibility with Local Brand Advisor

We employ specialists in ADA accessibility website compliance to ensure our clients are protected from potential lawsuits and provide an optimal user experience. Our Title III website compliance experts possess a deep understanding of assistive technologies, website code, legal awareness, disability cases, and potential challenges for websites. We can find and fix all ADA accessibility issues by implementing solutions that work long-term!

Additionally, with new content added to websites regularly, we can train your team on how to keep your site ADA compliant. You should also schedule occasional accessibility audits to ensure best practices are consistently implemented by your team. This will ensure you avoid lawsuits down the road.

Read the complete ADA Website Compliance White Paper

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