Lawsuits in reference to website accessibility issues seems to have become a trend with people in America over the past couple of months.
And every day new reasons arise to file a lawsuit against a person or organization.
Be prepared and don’t wait until it hits you and your organization. Make your website accessible to everybody today!
More and more speculative lawsuits have shown up focusing on website accessibility over the past year.
And even though no formal set of rules has been released yet, website owners should pay attention to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines as published by the World Wide Web Consortium and comply with level A and AA immediately. Successful suits have been filed against organizations whose websites were not in line with these guidelines over this past year.
And because of past success, law firms are being encouraged to go after more and more organizations whose websites are not accessible. They have started to implement automated checking tools that will run through your website searching for flaws and mistakes in compliance to the existing guidelines.
The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (42 U.S.C. § 12182) addressed discrimination against persons with disabilities ranging to organizations of “public accommodation” which is any organization open to the public. Which now also includes everything that is published on the internet. All websites included.
The Act states, that every organization of public accommodation has to make an honest effort to serve disabled individuals. In the original ADA Act, the term ‘disability’ is broadly defined and includes both physical and mental disabilities.
In 2010 the Department of Justice announced their intention to update their ADA regulations to specifically address websites. However, if the organization offers an accessible alternative, like a staffed telephone line for example, then the organization’s website can stay as it is.
This update was forgotten about until 2015 during a lawsuit against Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology leading to the defendants to request the DOJ to release its long awaited website-specific update.
In 2016 the Department of Justice released a Supplemental Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking and with that delaying their website-specific update until 2018 or later.
What To Do:
To prevent a lawsuit against your organization, you should immediately update your website to minimize accessibility failure rates from the automated testing devices.
This will automatically lower the attractiveness for predatory law firms looking for a quick settlement.
But this is only the first step, because many of the WCAG regulations are contextual and leave room for interpretation.
Step number two would be to work together directly with the disabled community and act on their feedback. The best way to do so is to perform a usability test with disabled test takers. This will help you to detect flaws in your website that make it harder / impossible for disabled users to navigate around it. Use the results as a guidance to both minimize legal exposure and gain more users by making it a better resource for the disabled community.