ADA lawsuits are on the rise because the law currently has a grey area, especially regarding business websites. The government has currently not defined the regulations for public accommodation online, which makes compliance much harder. While most courts follow the Web Content Access Guidelines when making their decisions, more likely than not they side with the plaintiff.
What is the ADA? The Americans with Disabilities Act, which was drafted and passed to ensure that people with disabilities received accommodation from public facilities. It was meant to make sure that storefronts and apartments had items like ramps for wheelchairs or Braille documents, but has since extended to the wild west of the Internet. Similar to how builders take steps to make sure features of a building are accessible, websites should have certain features to make the site easier for all to use. Unfortunately, that means that you could see a day in court for not providing accommodation. Luckily, there are services that provide features to help your site become ADA compliant.
In 2018, plaintiffs filed more than five thousand lawsuits related to web compliance. That number is bound to exponentially increase. We will go over the top five suits, and what we can learn from them:
We mainly know Domino’s for their pizza. The company has done homages to 1980 movies in their commercials, developed an app to notify customers when pizza is ready, and much more. They are also facing a lawsuit for not adapting the app and website for use by visually impaired consumers.
The current lawsuit against Domino’s states that a place that provides services to the public must make sure that these actions abide by the ADA. This counts even if the users aren’t in a Domino’s store. Obviously, Domino’s is concerned.
Why is this lawsuit important? For one, the district court initially sided with Domino’s on the grounds that there is no technical rule requiring their website and app to provide accommodation and asked for a stay on the decision. Then the Ninth Circuit overturned that decision, saying that the ADA has to apply no matter what the technicalities.
As of June 2019, Domino’s is petitioning the U.S. Supreme Court to step in and determine the final decision. The U.S. Supreme Court is the absolute authority for law decisions, so this case could be a landmark. We need to keep our eyes open.
In 2017, several advocacy groups filed suit against Hulu for not providing audio description tracks. These tracks describe what is happening during a film or television series and assist visually impaired users.
In this case, Hulu reached a settlement agreement in 2018. The company would provide the accommodation that the plaintiffs requested. In this case, rather than pay monetary damages, they would make sure to generate accurate audio descriptions as well as website accommodation for screen readers.
Let us note that the case took a year to resolve, and in that year the defendant Hulu had to cover these legal fees. While a settlement of this sort is the second-best case scenario, we would rather avoid this altogether.
We aren’t using a specific lawsuit names here since there are too many to list, although we know the names of the various universities that are involved. Jason Camacho is a visually impaired American who tested the universities’ websites on his screen reader. He points out when their coding doesn’t allow for the screen reader to provide clear information, such as for improper labeling of graphics.
Camacho is currently not seeking financial compensation, and instead wants an injunction for the universities to provide the accommodation he seeks as well as training employees. Nevertheless, we should be concerned; these universities are located nationally. They are across the country, with no regard for geographics or logistics. Even though Camacho obviously cannot attend all the colleges at once.
Location won’t save you from a user in another state wanting to access your site. That’s the important message to glean.
In the middle of these cases where the defendant stands no chance, we also present this one as an example that the courts will show common sense. Sometimes the plaintiff is being unreasonable or ignores the evidence.
Edwin Diaz filed suit against The Kroger, a supermarket corporation, on the grounds of not providing accommodation for disabilities. The judge Katherine Polk dismissed the case on June 11, 2019, because she reasoned that Kroger had abided by WCAG guidelines before the suit.
This is one exception that proves the rule; you can prevent a potential ADA compliance lawsuit if you proactively provide the evidence that you have complied.
Site Compliance will help you get your website up to speed, in relation to recent court updates and suits. We will help you identify genuine threats of suits in contrast to extortion letters from lawyers or law firms.
Reach out to us at Site Compliance today. We’re happy to get started and to help you reach proper ADA accommodation.