Website Compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
One of our clients was recently sued in federal court for violating the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by failing to maintain a website accessible by the blind and visually impaired. We discovered that in 2018, 2,285 lawsuits were filed in federal court against businesses, including franchisors, whose websites were not in compliance with the ADA. Many lawsuits were also filed under state statutes governing this issue. Thus, it is important for our franchisor and other business clients to understand (1) the basis for these lawsuits and how the ADA and Internet relate, (2) the value of website compliance with the ADA and (3) steps they need to take to ensure website compliance.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Internet
The ADA prohibits businesses from discriminating against customers with disabilities by inhibiting those customers from fully benefiting from the businesses’ goods and services. In the context of websites, in order to comply with the ADA, businesses must ensure that visually impaired and hearing impaired visitors to their website have full access to its functions. Blind and visually impaired individuals, for example, use screen-reading software that allows them to read text through a speech synthesizer or braille output. In lawsuits claiming ADA non-compliance, plaintiffs assert that the software was unable to navigate the business’ website and/or mobile application because the website and/or mobile application failed in its design.
The Value of Compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
Why is it important that your website be in compliance with the ADA?
- It’s good business to show that you are supportive of persons with disabilities and make efforts to be inclusive.
- The more people that have access to your website, the more prospective franchisees and the more customers for those franchisees you can reach.
- Compliance will limit your exposure to future claims under the ADA, thus saving money on defending future lawsuits.
Remedies under the ADA
- Injunction requiring steps be taken to make website accessible
- Damages for mental anguish, loss of dignity and other intangible injuries as a result of the defendant’s discrimination
- Payment of the plaintiff’s attorneys’ fees, which can be burdensome
Remedies under State Statutes
- Varies state by state but may include remedies under ADA
- Remedy in California is statutory damages of up to $4,000 per violation
Steps Towards Compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
What are the steps you can take to ensure your website is in compliance with the ADA?
- Contact your third-party website developer or have a discussion with your in-house website developer. It is likely your website developer is already aware of this issue and is familiar with the technology used to make websites ADA compliant.
- While we defer to your website developer, we understand that available technology to achieve compliance may include:
- Add alternate text (which describes images for website visitors who are unable to see them)
- Add closed captioning and full audio descriptions on all videos
- Add text descriptions of any video-only or audio-only components on your website
- Make your website accessible without a mouse (keyboard only)
- Make all text readable by a screen reader
- Make your website navigation logical for ease of use
- Make the color of text in sharp contrast to the background and easily zoomed in to large print
What are some other best practices?
- Post a policy on your website describing your efforts to make your website ADA compliant so that even those that do not need to use those features know that you are supportive and inclusive of people with disabilities.
- Have your attorney review contracts with website developers to protect you in the event they do not make your website in full compliance with the ADA.
- Confirm with your website developer that any micro-websites (as part of your main website) that franchisees have access to edit are also in compliance.