Is Your Organization’s Website ADA Compliant? Top 4 Things You Need to Know
The number of lawsuits alleging websites are not accessible as required by the Americans with Disability Act (“ADA”) has been growing rapidly in California. Businesses and public entities should proactively update their websites to ensure that they are accessible to individuals with disabilities who are visually impaired, blind, or hard of hearing.
1) What Does It Mean for a Website to Be “Accessible”?
To access and navigate websites, individuals who are blind or hard of hearing may use assistive technology such as screen readers, text enlargement software, and text-to-speech programs. Hard of hearing employees may need closed captioning to understand videos on websites. Although there is no mandated standard for websites, the most commonly used are the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (“WCAG”) created by the World Wide Web Consortium.
While the ADA was enacted in 1990, before the internet was in common use, courts have found that the ADA requires that many websites must be accessible to individuals with disabilities. Title II of the ADA prohibits state and local government entities from discriminating against qualified individuals with disabilities or excluding them from services, programs, and activities. Title III of the ADA requires businesses and nonprofits considered public accommodations to provide equal opportunities to access the goods or services they offer.
2) The Number of Lawsuits Alleging Websites Are in Violation of the ADA is Growing.
After the ADA was enacted, most complaints alleged barriers to access at physical stores and restaurants. In recent years, a growing percentage of ADA claims concern access to websites. Certain individuals with disabilities and plaintiffs’ attorneys specialize in filing a high volume of claims, typically alleging violation of the ADA and the state counterpart, the California Unruh Civil Rights Act. The New York Times recently profiled one of these plaintiffs.
Despite the high volume of these cases, because most ADA website accessibility cases settle, the contours of what is required is slowly developing. In June 2021, for example, in the case of Domino’s Pizza v. Robles, Case No. CV 16-6599 JGB (Ex), 2021 WL 2945562 (C.D. Cal. June 23, 2021), a federal district court judge ruled among other things, that providing a telephone line for the plaintiff to place an order was insufficient, where the plaintiff was put on hold for over 45 minutes when he tried to call.
3) With the Increase in Virtual Meetings and Online Services, Public Entities Should Ensure Access for Individuals with Disabilities.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, over the last 18 months, many public entities made a dramatic shift to virtual meetings and providing online services. A number of public entities have subsequently received complaints regarding the lack of closed captioning for live and prerecorded public meetings and websites are not accessible to individuals who are blind, vision impaired, or hard of hearing. The U.S. Department of Justice has also issued some technical assistance documents regarding accessibility.
4) Take Action Before a Claim Is Made
Rather than waiting for a claim, organizations should proactively update their websites, and ensure access to their facilities and services. Some suggestions include:
- Have an independent ADA consultant or ADA qualified user test your website for accessibility.
- Update or modify your website as necessary, including displaying the entity’s accessibility practice.
- Conduct routine website accessibility testing, especially after website updates.
- Evaluate whether other online platforms, such as mobile applications are accessible.
Please contact us to minimize any future litigation risks associated with website accessibility issues and ADA violations.