What Happens if I Violate the ADA?

Quick Summary: In order to be compliant with the ADA and offer goods and services to these people, adherence with the Web Content Accessibility guidelines is recommended.
Visual elements on a homepage may violate the ADA if you're not careful.

How does the ADA Apply to Websites?

In an effort to prevent discrimination, the ADA, or Americans with Disabilities Act, is a federal act signed into law in 1990 by George Bush that ensures that everyone has access to the same goods and services, regardless of physical limitations. Now web designers have to follow accessibility guidelines or take a risk and violate the ADA.

As the use of the internet for information and for the purchase of goods and services was not such an integral part of our lives in the 1990s, ADA Standards for Accessible Design were implemented in 2010. These standards required all electronic and information technology to be accessible to those with disabilities including those who are blind, deaf, and for those who navigate sites by voice or through screen readers. With an estimated 18% of the population, or 50 million people in the US having a physical disability, a significant portion of the population is affected by the inability to navigate a website.

Does the ADA Apply to Me?

Open shop sign

If you are a business owner and maintain a website, you may have questions about becoming compliant and penalties you could suffer if you fail to do so. First, it’s important to understand if the ADA applies to you.

Under Title III of the ADA, any business with at least 15 full-time employees that operates over 20 weeks per year is covered by the law. Under Title III of the ADA, any business that is a “place of accommodation”, is subject to the requirements of the law. A “place of accommodation” in the law is considered a business that is generally open to the public. This would include establishments such as movie theaters, hotels, restaurants, stores, and businesses that exist only on the web. All public places and privately-owned commercial facilities must comply with the ADA. The Department of Justice, which enforces the ADA, is looking to interpret the law to include commercial websites.

What Happens if I Violate the ADA?

A court building, where you may end up if you violate the ADA.

There are currently no federally mandated guidelines for website accessibility. However, case law is starting to define the guidelines and outcomes for when you violate the ADA.

A host of lawsuits have been brought against businesses and organizations for not providing an accessible website from as early as 2006. A class-action lawsuit filed against Target by the National Federation of the Blind in 2006 because its website was not accessible to the blind resulted in a judgment against them for $6 million dollars.

In 2016, a blind man sued Domino’s pizza because he could not order customized pizza or utilize online discounts because both the website and the app did not work with his screen reading software. As neither the site nor the app was ADA compliant, the plaintiff party prevailed in this case.

In the Winn Dixie case of 2018, which was the first of its kind to go to trial, a Florida judge ruled in favor of the plaintiff, a blind man. The judge determined that the Winn Dixie website was heavily integrated with the physical locations and is therefore subject to the terms of the ADA. While the plaintiff did not receive damages in the case, his attorneys will be requesting fees. Winn Dixie reserved $250,000 to make the updates to its website to comply. 

Courts in Florida at this point have held that websites unconnected from physical locations do not need to be ADA compliant. However, without clear guidelines on a federal level, state decisions reflect a growing trend of requiring accessibility. Litigation for ADA website issues is only trending upward. According to the National Law Review, the number of cases filed for accessibility issues increased from 815 in 2017 to 2,285 in 2018.

While many large retailers and organizations including Domino’s, Nike, Burger King, and CVS have been sued for website accessibility issues, smaller organizations are certainly not exempt from litigation. Failure to become ADA compliant can open you up to possible litigation and brand reputation damage, so addressing your website compliance is a critical part of managing your potential liability. It’s also the right thing to do.

Design for Everyone or Violate the ADA 

Javascript on Monitor

Those with disabilities may have different challenges preventing them from accessing a website including vision, hearing, or other disabilities. In order to be compliant with the ADA and offer goods and services to these people, adherence with the Web Content Accessibility guidelines is recommended. The WCAG provides 61 recommendations for making a website accessible to those with disabilities and lays out three levels of compliance categorized as A, AA, AAA. The higher the level, the more closely your website meets the recommendations for accessibility. Currently, federal agencies are required to meet a level AA and this tends to the level that developers recommend meeting.

Consulting with your web developer to ensure that your website is ADA compliant has become essential in today’s landscape. Accessibility is an issue that should be addressed by all stakeholders in your organization and integrated into your overall business plan. A thoughtful focus on making your goods and services accessible to everyone, including those with disabilities, will reduce your exposure to litigation, provide access to a population that may not have it, and protect your brand and reputation in the process.

Contact 3 Media Web today to learn how we can help!

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