keyboard with handicap accessibility key
While legal clarity is still pending, there are steps that can be taken to ensure that your website remains legally ADA compliant. — Getty Images/alexsl

Website accessibility lawsuits nearly tripled over the past year. How can your business avoid an ADA compliance lawsuit? CO— asked legal experts for their best advice.

Lawsuits involving the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) are concentrated in New York and Florida, but companies across the nation need to get informed, be proactive, review their websites and deliver on promises, said Nancy Del Pizzo, partner at Rivkin Radler LLP.

In the 2016 landmark case, Gil v. Winn-Dixie Stores, the grocery chain was found to have violated ADA because its website was inaccessible to the blind plaintiff. Winn-Dixie was ordered to update its website but the decision is non-binding for other courts. Some courts hold that only websites with “nexus” – a link to a physical location – are subject to ADA; other courts do not impose that condition.

There still are no regulations or statutes governing how a commercial website can obtain sufficient accessibility for visitors with disabilities, but judicial decisions have largely looked at what is “reasonable” for the specific company being challenged, Del Pizzo told CO—.

While a lack of standards is blamed for the flurry of website accessibility lawsuits (2,258 in 2018, up from 814 in 2017), clarity may be on the horizon. A lawsuit brought by a visually impaired man who claims Domino’s Pizza’s website and app are inaccessible may be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court, said Jeff Kosc, partner, Taft Stettinius & Hollister LLP.

It’s not certain the Court will hear the case, but if they do, that will go a long way toward clarifying the split in circuit courts and establishing a federal standard, Kosc said. Domino’s has until June 14, 2019, to file its Supreme Court petition. [How to design an ADA compliant web site.]

Until there is legal clarity, consult the following expert tips to improve ADA digital compliance. Kosc suggests:

  • Consult WCAG 2.1 voluntary guidelines detailing three accessibility success tiers – A, AA and AAA. The Department of Justice guidance to date is that the Level AA standard is the target for everybody.
  • Assess the entire organization including in-store and remote technologies. If a website is using a third party or embedded content, make sure those sources are compliant as well.

Additionally, Del Pizzo offers the following advice:

  • Review website terms of use. For example, if the business is in the process of adding technology to aid visually impaired viewers, consider stating that in the terms of use or the website front page to let viewers know the business is diligently working to create a better experience for low-vision users, which was something the court looked for in the Winn-Dixie case.
  • Deliver on your promise. Provide what you offer. If a website advertises a toll-free number to aid viewers having difficulty using a screen reader, make sure someone is available to promptly respond to callers at that number.

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

Published April 18, 2019