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Legal Implications of ADA Non-Compliance

An estimated 27% of adults in the United States have some type of disability, according to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). Worldwide, the number of people with serious disabilities reaches 1.6 billion, or approximately 16% of the whole world’s population. That includes people who have difficulty with mobility, cognition, independent living, hearing, vision, and self-care.

Unfortunately, people with disabilities are often unable to enjoy the same kind of online experience that people without disabilities take for granted.

What Is ADA Compliance?

In order to create web content that is fully accessible to people with disabilities, it’s necessary to comply with the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) and the international standards and guidelines set by WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines). ADA ensures that people with disabilities receive equal employment opportunities and access to goods and services.

It’s important to note that although ADA offers generally vague descriptions regarding web accessibility compliance, WCAG 2.0, 2.1, and 2.2 offer more specific guidelines that can help web content creators create websites that will be fully accessible to all users.  

Title III of the ADA specifies that all businesses and organisations classified as public accommodations must provide equal access to their goods and services — both in their physical and online domains — to customers with disabilities.

That includes retail stores, colleges, restaurants, hotels, banks, real estate agencies, hospitals, doctor’s offices, museums, libraries, and almost every other type of business, regardless of size.

The only businesses exempt from ADA compliance are those operating up to 20 weeks a year, with less than 15 employees, religious organisations, and private clubs. However, even if exempt from the law, it’s an intelligent business consideration to ensure that one’s goods and services are accessible to as many people as possible.

The advantages of web accessibility for a business include an increased market reach, an improved SEO (Search Engine Optimization), improved business reputation, as well as a better user experience both for people with disabilities and people without disabilities.

However, it’s important to note that ADA compliance is not only a business investment; it’s also a legal requirement. Let’s look into the potential legal consequences of not adhering to ADA compliance standards and provide insights into recent legal cases related to digital accessibility.

Legal Consequences of ADA Non-Compliance

Whether knowing or unknowing, ignoring ADA requirements can increase the risk of costly lawsuits, settlements, and fines that can cause irreparable damage to a business's reputation and financial solvency.

A single ADA violation can cost an organisation or a business up to $75,000, while additional violations may go all the way up to $150,000.

Compare that to the relatively minor costs of developing an accessible website - for example, when Tesco developed an accessible website in 2001, it cost them £35,000. It resulted in an increase in site sales revenue to £13 million.

And that’s to say nothing of the potential for lawsuits by customers who cannot use a company website due to its inaccessibility.

High Profile Web Accessibility Lawsuits

One of the first high-profile web accessibility cases involved the National Federation of the Blind (NFB), a non-profit organization representing Americans who are blind, suing Target Corporation in 2006 due to its website being inaccessible to users who are blind and visually impaired.

More than two years later, Target settled the class action lawsuit and agreed to pay $6 million in class damages. Consequently, this lawsuit became a landmark precedent that strongly encouraged online retailers to consider accessibility issues when creating web content.

More recently, a visually impaired man named Guillermo Robles sued Domino’s, an American pizza restaurant chain, in 2019 due to being unable to order food on their website and mobile app even while using an assistive technology tool in the form of a screen-reading software.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit sided with Robles, arguing that Domino’s website and app, a place of public accommodation, were in violation of Title III of the ADA. Robles and Domino’s ultimately reached a settlement in 2022, and though its terms have not been publicly disclosed, the court fees alone must be considerably more costly than it would’ve been for Domino’s to create a fully accessible site in the first place.

This case, which may be the most famous website accessibility lawsuit of all time, may offer more legal clarity for businesses, consumers, and legal teams when it comes to web accessibility, including in the still ongoing case of Bishop v. Amazon.com.

In 2018, Cedric Bishop, who is legally blind, sued Amazon.com, arguing that the company’s website is incompatible with website readers and refreshable Braille displays, thus being inaccessible to people who are blind and visually impaired, and in violation of ADA and WCAG.

Though as of yet unresolved, this case highlights how even the largest companies in the world still have ways to go to comply with ADA requirements by making their websites fully accessible to users with disabilities.

Web Accessibility Lawsuits in 2023

Web accessibility lawsuits have continued to rise in recent years, reaching record numbers in 2023, according to UsableNET, a web accessibility consultancy firm that monitors and documents all lawsuits relating to accessibility of web content (i.e., websites, mobile apps, and video content) in federal court and state courts in New York, California, and Florida.

According to their 2023 report, website accessibility lawsuits reached a total of 4,605 lawsuits. For comparison, that’s nearly twice as many as in 2018, when the total number of cases filed was 2,314.

Most lawsuits are filed against e-commerce websites (82%), followed by food service (7%), education (2%), travel/hospitality (1%), healthcare (1%), and entertainment & leisure (1%).  Most claims still target desktop websites (97%) rather than mobile websites, apps, and videos.

Even though we previously talked about some of the most high-profile cases, it may surprise you to note that most of 2023 web accessibility lawsuits (77%) were filed against companies that earn under $25 million in annual revenue. That means that a company of any size may be at potential risk of lawsuits if its web content doesn’t fully comply with ADA and WCAG guidelines.

How to Ensure Your Website Is ADA Compliant?

In order to comply with ADA and WCAG, you have to ensure that your web content is perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust. That means ensuring the following:

  • Accurate and complete synchronised captions on pre-recorded and live video and audio content
  • Accurate and complete transcripts on the same page as pre-recorded video and audio content (or alternatively on a linked page)
  • Accurate audio descriptions on pre-recorded video content
  • Sufficient colour contrast between text and its background
  • Compatibility with assistive technologies tools, such as screen readers
  • Alternative text (alt text) for relevant images
  • Legible and easily readable fonts
  • Keyboard-only navigation
  • Responsive user interface
  • Ability to resize text up to 200% without loss of function or content
  • Media content player that supports all accessibility functions
  • Easy navigation on devices of all sizes and in either screen orientation
  • No content that can trigger seizures
  • Option to control time limits when navigating content
  • Option to pause or stop autoplay
  • Click to content link

To read a full list of ADA and WCAG compliance requirements, check the official WCAG 2.0 overview page.

Subly is the perfect place to start on your path to web accessibility. With Subly, you can create highly accurate subtitles or captions in over 30 languages and dialects, translate them in over 70 languages, create transcripts, audio descriptions, and improve colour contrasts that boost the accessibility of your video files.

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