How to Avoid an ADA Compliance Lawsuit on your Website

The Americans with Disabilities Act, which was enacted in 1990, is a set of rules ensuring that everyone, including those with disabilities, have reasonable access to all areas of public life.

Currently, while storefronts, public areas and public bathrooms must legally take measures to accommodate everyone with disabilities, online ADA compliance is not mandatory on anything but government-managed websites. Instead, these rules act as guidelines to ensure that disabled people have the same ability to access and read/view your website as everyone else.

Making your website ADA compliant is good to do in both theory and in practice, as it can only make your site easier to use. Making your website ADA compliant is good to do in both theory and in practiceBut certain attorneys have been using ADA compliance to attempt to file lawsuits against various businesses by claiming a website does not meet ADA standards. Luckily, if your business has received allegations regarding ADA compliance, there are steps you can take to combat the claims.

The ADA Compliance Conundrum

While websites are considered to be included in ADA compliance, because of the lack of guidelines and updated laws surrounding ADA compliance, it's hard to judge whether a site is ADA compliant or not. The ADA created suggestions for compliance, though these suggestions do not make them law.

Pass/Fail Surveys for ADA Compliance

There are several websites online that feature compliance tests with pass/fail type questionnaires to test your website, and we looked at all of them. We gathered the most relevant topics and compiled them here. The following is a practical list of pass/fail questions adapted mostly from a 2007 ADA compliance assessment for government sites.

A practical test for ADA compliance issues:

  • Rule 1 - Does the top of each page with navigation links have a "skip navigation" link?
  • Rule 2 - Do all links have a text description that can be read by a screen reader (not just a graphic or "click here")?
  • Rule 3 - Do all of the photographs, maps, graphics and other images on the website currently have HTML tags (such as an "alt" tag or a long description tag) with text equivalents of the material being visually conveyed?
  • Rule 4 - Are all of the documents posted on your website available in HTML or another text-based format (for example, rich text format (RTF) or word processing format), even if you are also providing them in another format, such as Portable Document Format (PDF)?
  • Rule 5 - If your website has online forms, do HTML tags describe all of the controls (including all text fields, check boxes, drop-down lists, and buttons) that people can use in order to complete and submit the forms?
  • Rule 6 - If your website has online forms, does the default setting in drop-down lists describe the information being requested instead of displaying a response option (e.g. "your age" instead of "18-21")?
  • Rule 7 - If a webpage has data charts or tables, is HTML used to associate all data cells with column and row identifiers?
  • Rule 8 - Do all video files on your website have audio descriptions of what is being displayed to provide access to visually conveyed information for people who are blind or have low vision?
  • Rule 9 - Do all video files on your website have written captions of spoken communication synchronized with the action to provide access to people who are deaf or hard of hearing?
  • Rule 10 - Do all audio files on your website have written captions of spoken communication synchronized with the action to provide access to people who are deaf or hard of hearing?
  • Rule 11 - Have all webpages been designed so they can be viewed using visitors' web browser and operating system settings for color and font?
  • Rule 13 - Is the website accessibility policy posted on your website in a place where it can be easily located?
  • Rule 22 - Does your website home page include easily locatable information, including a telephone number and email address, for use in reporting website accessibility problems and requesting accessible services and information?

While it is possible to get sued for ADA non-compliance, it is currently unlikely that the case would stand up in court. This is because website compliance is currently in the guideline phase, and there is no governing body, or criteria for making a private business's site ADA compatible.

While it is possible to get sued for ADA non-compliance, it is currently unlikely that the case would stand up in court. This is because website compliance is currently in the guideline phase, and there is no governing body, or criteria for making a private business's site ADA compatible.There are multiple advanced notices of proposed rulemaking for widespread website compliance. The Department of Justice has generally shown approval for the rules, but no verdict has been made. Should these rules become law, there are also no standards in place for enforcement.

In short, the ADA currently offers compliance suggestions for sites, but there aren't currently any standards that you are obligated to follow. The proposed law would make sure that websites follow WCAG 2.0 guidelines, which were designed and set up by the World Wide Web Consortium, an international group aimed at creating global website standards.

What to do if someone threatens your business with an ADA lawsuit?

1 Review the grievance

A lawsuit may likely begin by citing "violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act, Title 42 U.S.C. 12101 and 12181" which can be found in further detail here.

A lawsuit may go on to list a pass/fail test regarding ADA guidelines. However, there are no current guidelines to enforce in this scenario, only recommended suggestions with WCAG 2.0.

Finally, the lawsuit may include a settlement option, which is often priced low enough that it seems too good to be true. This is a tell-tale sign that the lawsuit has no legs to stand on, and is most likely a scam.

2 Consult a lawyer

Even when you know that the lawsuit is flawed or faulty, it's best to consult with a lawyer so that these threats to your business won't continue. A good lawyer will be able to quickly read the lawsuit and consult with you if any serious issues arise.

3 Review and update your website

If your business's website has failed a certain part of the ADA compliance tests, it may still be a good idea to fix and update your site. If your site is easily accessible by those with disabilities, you may see beneficial returns from those users in turn.

4 Issue a statement to the plaintiff

Explain to the plaintiff that you've reviewed the grievance and talked with a lawyer. It may be best to explain the ADA guidelines, and that proposed laws are not currently laws, nor are there current penalties for violating these proposed laws. Knowing that you've gone to this trouble can sometimes scare away anyone attempting to file a lawsuit. It's best to let your attorney contact the plaintiff when making statements.

Who do these lawsuits target?

While ADA compliance lawsuits can threaten any public business, if your business is in healthcare, government or education, you're more likely to receive a lawsuit.

Small business websites are commonly targeted by attorneys looking to make a quick buck by offering a low settlement fee.

The Department of Justice has indicated that businesses should be doing their best to be ADA compliant, but currently, there are no final regulations forcing a site to be compliant.

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