In 2017, plaintiffs filed at least 814 federal lawsuits about allegedly inaccessible websites, including a number of putative class actions. We arrived at this number by searching for lawsuits with certain key terms and then manually reviewing the results to remove any cases that did not concern an allegedly inaccessible website. Our numbers are conservative, as it is very likely that not every website accessibility lawsuit’s description – upon which we based our search – contained our search terms. This caveat applies to all of the data set forth below.
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"III-3.6000 Retaliation or coercion. Individuals who exercise their rights under the ADA, or assist others in exercising their rights, are protected from retaliation. The prohibition against retaliation or coercion applies broadly to any individual or entity that seeks to prevent an individual from exercising his or her rights or to retaliate against him or her for having exercised those rights ... Any form of retaliation or coercion, including threats, intimidation, or interference, is prohibited if it is intended to interfere."
The statement that “noncompliance with a voluntary technical standard for website accessibility does not necessarily indicate noncompliance with the ADA” is new and significant. It is a recognition that a website may be accessible and usable by the blind without being fully compliant with the privately developed Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 or 2.1. The statement confirms what some courts have said so far: That the operative legal question in a website accessibility lawsuit is not whether the website conforms with WCAG, but whether persons with disabilities are able to access to a public accommodation’s goods, services, and benefits through the website, or some alternative fashion.
Upon discovering issues faced by disabled government employees and the public, revisions to section 508 were made. The issues that were uncovered involved websites, documents, and software programs. As of January 2018, the updated 508 standards require all federal agencies and contractors to create web content accessible to all. The updated standards also include Website 508 compliance.
Part of Title I was found unconstitutional by the United States Supreme Court as it pertains to states in the case of Board of Trustees of the University of Alabama v. Garrett as violating the sovereign immunity rights of the several states as specified by the Eleventh Amendment to the United States Constitution. The Court determined that state employees cannot sue their employer for violating ADA rules. State employees can, however, file complaints at the Department of Justice or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, who can sue on their behalf.
It makes sense that everyone should have equal access to websites and online properties. The Internet has become an integral part of our lives, where we go to shop, learn, do our banking, and socialize. The DOJ hasn’t determined what the final set of regulations for ADA compliant websites will be yet, but there are established guidelines and standards of accessibility that can be viewed on the ADA website. Once a website meets these accessibility standards it qualifies as ADA compliant.
In court, Netflix tried to argue that websites should not be part of ADA compliance regulations, as there is no physical structure / location. They also argued that websites should not be in scope of ADA as there is no public component (the original ADA compliance law specifically called out that ADA rules apply primarily to services, locations, and products that are supposed to be open to the public).
People with disabilities are all around us. They live in every country and often experience life in a very different manner than those individuals who don’t have emotional, mental, or physical disabilities. In fact, 15 percent of the global population is classified as disabled. Of this 15 percent, an estimated 190 million people experience significant disabilities.¹
The ADA states that a "covered entity" shall not discriminate against "a qualified individual with a disability". This applies to job application procedures, hiring, advancement and discharge of employees, job training, and other terms, conditions, and privileges of employment. "Covered entities" include employers with 15 or more employees, as well as employment agencies, labor organizations, and joint labor-management committees. There are strict limitations on when a covered entity can ask job applicants or employees disability-related questions or require them to undergo medical examination, and all medical information must be kept confidential.
As of 2015 the ADA had improved access to public services, the built environment (e.g., crosswalks with curb cuts and accessible pedestrian signals), understanding of the abilities of people with disabilities, established a right to equal access to public services and has demonstrated the contributions which people with disabilities can make to the economy. Disparities have remained in employment, earned income, Internet access, transportation, housing, and educational attainment and the disabled remain at a disadvantage with respect to health and health care.
For example, you may have thousands of images on your website that need to be checked for the presence of “alt text,” which is a requirement under WCAG 2.0. This is a task for automated testing software, which can perform the job much faster than any human. While automated tools can detect if the images on your website have alt text, however, they aren’t able to determine whether the text is correct and meaningful—which is a job for human testers.
I should mention one caveat to all of this. Businesses that are required to comply but don't have the ability to bring their websites into compliance can provide an accessible alternative to provide the same information, goods, and services that they provide online, like a staffed phone line. The trick, however, is that this option has to provide at least equal access, including in terms of hours of operation. And, as we know, the internet is around 24/7, so good luck with that.
The ADA is the Americans with Disabilities Act, passed almost 30 years ago in 1990. This act was originally put in motion pertaining solely to physical location. It requires establishments to provide people with disabilities easy access to various levels throughout the business. This act was set to achieve an equal experience to all people, handicapped or not.
Title III also has applications to existing facilities. One of the definitions of "discrimination" under Title III of the ADA is a "failure to remove" architectural barriers in existing facilities. See 42 U.S.C. § 12182(b)(2)(A)(iv). This means that even facilities that have not been modified or altered in any way after the ADA was passed still have obligations. The standard is whether "removing barriers" (typically defined as bringing a condition into compliance with the ADAAG) is "readily achievable", defined as "...easily accomplished without much difficulty or expense".
Of the 814 federal cases, New York and Florida led the way with more than 335 and 325 cases, respectively. Surprisingly, California only had nine new website accessibility lawsuits in 2017, most likely because plaintiffs filed in state court. Federal courts in Arizona (6), Georgia (9), Illinois (10), Massachusetts (15), New Hampshire (2), Michigan (1), New Jersey (4), Ohio (8), Pennsylvania (58), Puerto Rico (1), Texas (7), and Virginia (24) also had their share of website accessibility lawsuits.
Recent years have seen an uptick in federal lawsuits filed against businesses and governments, alleging that their website violates the ADA by being insufficiently accessible to people with disabilities. In 2017, there were at least 814 such lawsuits against organizations in a variety of industries, from banks and credit unions to restaurants and e-commerce websites. The defendants include small businesses as well as major corporations such as Nike, Burger King, and the Hershey Company.
It isn’t a problem by default, a lot of it comes down to how it is built. I’d suggest either considering a highly accessible contingency option, or build those components in such a way that there is a level of accessibility baked into it. If you need help with that testing or review email us at questions at yokoco.com and we’ll be able to let you know the cost for us to lend a hand.
Many people with disabilities use “assistive technology” to enable them to use computers and access the Internet. Blind people who cannot see computer monitors may use screen readers – devices that speak the text that would normally appear on a monitor. People who have difficulty using a computer mouse can use voice recognition software to control their computers with verbal commands. People with other types of disabilities may use still other kinds of assistive technology. New and innovative assistive technologies are being introduced every day.