An issue frequently raised in “drive-by” Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) lawsuits is the claim that a company’s website is not accessible to users with disabilities. Some websites can pose significant barriers for people with disabilities including those who (a) are blind or have low vision, (b) are deaf or hard of hearing, (c) have mobility-related disabilities, (d) have some type of learning or cognitive disabilities. In addition to having physically accessible facilities, the ADA requires businesses to have compliant websites, although the ADA and the case law interpreting it are unclear regarding what standards must be met for compliance.
The ADA does not define website accessibility. It is generally understood to mean the practice of making websites accessible to persons with disabilities, which allows everyone to navigate, understand, and interact with the website and incorporates features that enhance access to the website and removes barriers that prevent access.
Courts have found that Title III guarantees individuals with disabilities the full and equal enjoyment of the goods and services of a place of public accommodation, and a business must furnish appropriate auxiliary aids and services to ensure effective communication. In Gil v. Winn-Dixie Stores, Inc. the court found that where a business’ website is heavily integrated with its physical location, the website must be compliant with Title III of the ADA.
Common web accessibility problems include:
Tools used for access to websites include screen magnifiers, screen readers, speech recognition and text browsers.
The Department of Justice (DOJ), which is responsible for regulations under the ADA, has not issued requirements a business must meet to achieve website compliance. In the meantime, business are turning to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) created by the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). The lack of clear rules undoubtedly will lead to litigation and inconsistent judicially-made law. Nationwide, businesses have settled cases alleging their websites and mobile apps were not fully accessible to the visually impaired. The settlements were confidential, so the exact terms are unknown, but the lawsuits called for the companies to update their online and mobile presence to better accommodate the visually impaired, which could involve fixes to code and other changes to make screen reader software work better.
Your business should review the accessibility of its website under the WCAG guidelines and the Section 508 standards (governing those covered by Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act), to ensure it has an accessible website. Your business should post an accessibility statement on the website that informs the public of the company’s commitment to accessibility and how to contact the company with any accessibility-related issues or concerns.