The Americans with Disabilities Act became law over 30 years ago, but it isn’t until recently that the legislation has applied to website owners. Interestingly, there has also been a resultant rise in law suits related to website accessibility issues. International law firm Seyfarth Shaw reported an increase of 16 percent in ADA lawsuits in 2017, with most of them related to non-compliant websites.
ADA and Website Accessibility
The Americans with Disabilities Act (or ADA) was created to procted people with disabilities from discrimination. Created before the world wide web, it has a very wide scope that covers:
- Private and public spaces
- State and local government institutions
- Employment opportunities
- Transportation and telecommunications
- Building codes
A background on website accessibility
There was naturally no need for the ADA the account for the accessibility of websites in its original outline. But this changed in 2003 when the Department of Justice published initial guidelines aimed at state and local governments on how to make their websites more accessible.
In 2018, a revised version of Section 508 under Title II of the ADA came into force. This was known as the Section 508 Refresh and it included accessbility standards that were based on the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines.
The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines is a list of requirements that websites need to meet in order to be deemed accessible. It is a global initiative that was published by the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) under the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C).
Despite all of this, many website owners are still vulnerable to lawsuits.
The Problem with ADA and Website Accessibility
If you’re reading this you may think that it is the website owner’s fault when they are hit with a lawsuit. But often that isn’t the case.
The section 508 Refresh is only applicable to local and state government websites. There are no hard and fast rules for commercial businesses or anyone else. What businesses need to be aware of is Title III of the ADA, rather than Title II.
This Title mandate that public businesses remove “access barriers” that may prevent disabled people from accessing the goods and services they offer. It has been argued that any website that sells goods or services should also come under this ruling, even if they have no physical presence. As a result, website owners are under threat of ADA lawsuits.
How Can I Protect Myself Against ADA Lawsuits?
In 2018, the DOJ said that they would update Title II to include outlines for website accessibility. Unfortunately, they have yet to make these changes. Until then, the best thing for business owners to do is to use the same WCAG guidelines as used by government organizations.
Making your website accessible to everyone is incredibly tricky. But we can help. For more information on website accessibility, get in touch with our website experts for a free consultation on how we can help get your website in order.