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In the 2017 court case, Gil v. Winn-Dixie, a federal judge ruled that the supermarket chain’s website violated the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) because it wasn’t accessible for people who are visually impaired. Earlier this year, Beyoncé’s own management company was hit with a class-action lawsuit due to her website’s lack of accommodation for visually impaired individuals who tried to purchase concert tickets online.
In fall 2016, a similar lawsuit was filed against Domino’s Pizza after a blind customer tried ordering a customized pizza through their app, but it wasn’t compatible with the screen reading software he used. Dominoes argued that the ADA did not apply to websites, since the law was enacted nearly thirty years ago when such technology did not exist. Then in late 2019, The Supreme Court declined to hear the case, a clear victory for disability advocates. In essence, this trend isn’t disappearing anytime soon.
This may come as a surprise to some business owners, since the ADA is widely associated with physical locations and the idea of companies offering the right accommodations to serve individuals with disabilities, such as wheelchair ramps, and braille on ATM machines. However, Title III of the ADA is now bring interpreted to include websites as public places, and Title I businesses – or those with 15 full-time employees and that operate 20 or more hours per week – also must comply with the ADA.
According to an article on Medium, websites “with significant inaccessible components can be seen as discriminatory against persons with disabilities, in violation of Title III of the ADA.” Additionally, the ADA is a strict liability law, which means there is no latitude in terms of excuses or defenses for violating accessibility guidelines. Failure to comply could leave a company at risk for financial liabilities, lawsuits, and damage to brand reputation, according to Business News Daily.
The downside for business owners is that there are no ADA regulations that clearly define what it means for a website to be ADA compliant. In Gil v. Winn-Dixie, U.S. District Judge Robert Scola Jr. stated in his ruling that the Winn-Dixie website was in violation of the ADA because it didn’t offer screen reader software, making the site difficult for those who are legally blind to navigate and use.
“The services offered on Winn-Dixie’s website, such as the online pharmacy management system, the ability to access digital coupons that link automatically to a customer’s rewards card, and the ability to find store locations, are undoubtedly services, privileges, advantages, and accommodations offered by Winn-Dixie’s physical store locations,” Scola wrote in his ruling, according to Courthouse News Service.
In general, web content for ADA Title I and Title III businesses must supply “reasonable accessibility” to users who are visually and hearing impaired or have other disabilities. A good place to start is to look at ADA compliance guidelines used for the websites of public entities, such as local, state, and federal governmental agencies.
Within Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0, there are also levels of acceptability for being ADA website compliant.
Here are a few common tools business owners can incorporate throughout their website to demonstrate they have made an effort to accommodate all users:
Even though there are no codified ADA accessibility guidelines for websites, businesses have no excuse for not making a good-faith effort to accommodate users with disabilities. Taking measures to increase accessibility is not only good for brand image but also to protect companies against costly lawsuits. Additionally, companies risk losing valuable business by not making their digital space accessible to a wide range of individuals. According to a November 2018 article in the Los Angeles Times, lawsuits targeting businesses over ADA regulations are on the rise. In 2018 alone, there were over 2,250 Federal Website Accessibility Lawsuits, triple that from just a year earlier in 2017. In the first half of 2019, these lawsuits increased 51.7% over 2018’s same six-month period.
The internet is a huge part of our daily life, and ADA compliance will gain more attention going forward. For 2020, here are your 5 options:
If you are a high-profile company that attracts users to conduct business on your site, then you will want to be as aggressive as possible to ensure you avoid the unnecessary legal expense or negative PR that will surely come from an ADA compliance lawsuit.
As your trusted advisor for all things related to marketing and the growth of your business, StratGrow is here to help. Contact StratGrow today to discuss this or any other business growth topic.
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