At the risk of stating the obvious, making your website accessible to all users is always a good practice. Setting aside the morality of inclusive design, organizations who neglect accessibility concerns may be at risk.
Photo by AbsolutVision
According to a recent post by law firm Seyfarth Shaw, the number of American Disabilities Act (ADA) Title III lawsuits filed in federal court hit a record high in 2018 with 10,163 cases. For comparison, there were only 7,663 suits of the same kind in 2017 and 2,722 suits in 2013.
What’s causing this rise? According to the article, websites helped drive the numbers up, as 2000 federal lawsuits about allegedly inaccessible websites were filed in 2018.
Before rushing to alarm, though, we need to unpack the article’s claims and offer one of our own. Duo specializes in website development and design, not law. We are not trying to offer legal advice. Nor are we trying to cause panic. While Seyfarth’s article draws attention to the nearly 2,000 federal lawsuits brought in 2018 against inaccessible websites, not every ADA Title III suit relates to websites. Some cases, for instance, relate to physical access barriers and architectural features.
Further, the legal framework surrounding accessibility remains in flux. The ADA itself says nothing about websites. Rather, both ADA Title III, the section of the ADA relevant to private businesses operating as places of public accommodations, and ADA Title II, governing state and local governments, have been interpreted as applying to websites. At present, there are no clear ADA standards for website accessibility given the Department of Justice has yet to adopt the relevant rules under ADA Title II and III.
That isn’t to say that enforcement actions aren’t still being brought, though. Private parties can still file a suit and win injunctions, though not damages, at the federal level. Universities, meanwhile, are vulnerable through other legal avenues. Depending on the nature of the institution, a school can be subject to a Department of Justice enforcement action under ADA Title II or Title III, and t. The Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights Enforcement can bring an action against schools through the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act. The relevant section of the Rehabilitation Act, much like the ADA, doesn’t have clear language regarding website accessibility standards, and is thus also open to interpretation. Ultimately, despite the lack of clear standards, organizations without accessible websites are still at risk of being sued.
With the legality of website accessibility in flux, it may be tempting to wait and see how the Department of Justice ends up enacting the rules. On the other hand, with enforcement actions proliferating, staying ahead of the law and adhering to the widely accepted WCAG 2.0 may be the more prudent option.
One college contacted Duo after they received notice from the government that portions of its website were in violation of accessibility requirements. While they are a private institution, most colleges receive federal funding which makes them potentially liable.
Seeking to remedy the problem, they reached out to Duo. First we completed a full audit against WCAG 2.0 standards, from text and images to more in-depth areas such as UI, navigability and programming. Our process reviews the entire site looking for areas of non-compliance. From there, rather than making the changes themselves, they contracted with Duo to rehabilitate their site under WCAG 2.0 standards.
Again, Duo can’t guarantee compliance with regulation, but it’s worth reviewing whether or not your site is accessible. Whether the legal status surrounding ADA Title III changes in the near future or not, the world continues to grow more connected and having an accessible digital experience is the best practice online.
To schedule an accessibility audit of your site contact Duo by clicking the link below.