When you are designing or redesigning your website for your business, you may ask this question: do you need to abide by ADA regulations? The area seems grey in legal terms, but current events and trends can clarify the situation.
If you run a business, assume that ADA compliance is mandatory. Per the official US government website on the ADA, “Title III prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in the activities of places of public accommodations (businesses that are generally open to the public and that fall into one of 12 categories listed in the ADA, such as restaurants, movie theaters, schools, day care facilities, recreation facilities, and doctors’ offices) and requires newly constructed or altered places of public accommodation—as well as commercial facilities (privately owned, nonresidential facilities such as factories, warehouses, or office buildings)—to comply with the ADA Standards.”
In short, if you sell products or services to customers, and if you have more than fifteen employees, you need to make your website accessible. So do government agency websites and places funded by government grants. Both have to serve the public.
Even if you are business to a business employer or an independent artist selling watercolors on your own site, compliance can save you from multiple legal headaches in the future. Your website is a storefront, whether or not you have a brick and mortar equivalent. Treat it as such and make sure that you follow Web Content Access Guidelines 2.0 or 2.1, which while lacking legal regulation in court are used as the general frame of reference.
With that said, lawyers are muddying the semantics of “public accommodation” by the year, since the original ADA didn’t anticipate Internet usage needing similar definitions and boundaries. Universities have become a recent target regarding their websites, thanks to Jason Comacho taking legal action in December 2018. ADA trolls filed up to 508 lawsuits related to website accessibility in 2016, and the number increased to 814 in 2017.
What makes this lawsuit cases different from genuine ones that account for disability discrimination is that they are done to extort money from businesses, and pressure them to use website contractors affiliated with them. Several businesses have reported that lawyers send a letter to them, intimidating owners into paying money to avoid litigation and mandated they use certain contractors to fix their compliance. While judges can and have censured this breach in ethics which also messes with the ADA’s integrity, you need to cover yourself.
The ADA also follows a strict liability, no excuses policy for lapses in accommodation. This means that if a case goes to court unless the judge knows that the suit is frivolous, you will either have to pay a settlement or lose gloriously.
Usually, the trolls use a tool called a web crawler to automatically identify websites that have faulty alt text, as an example or other types of noncompliance. They may or may not have a disabled user named as a plaintiff unless a lawyer filing suit names him or herself as the plaintiff. Or their plaintiff may have a serial habit of filing suit, as with Comacho.
You want to ensure that you can pass the basic web crawler test to avoid the wrong kind of attention. Rather than letters from lawyers, you’d rather have money invested in your business so that it can keep growing. Make sure that your website is ADA compliant by contacting us about our services today.