For most businesses, the need for ADA web compliance means they will need to make at least some adjustments to all of their online marketing strategies. For instance, if your company provides tax preparation services, all of the tax forms you provide for customers to download would need to meet accessibility standards. Any online tax preparation services that you offer would also need to be configured so they meet ADA standards, as would your mobile app.
That’s good news if you are one of the many Americans who have a visual, hearing, or mobility disability that makes it difficult to access some information on the web. If you are a business owner who hasn’t made provisions to ensure that your website and other online assets are ADA compliant, you could be looking at a host of legal and financial penalties.
Accessibility is important and should be a part of your company or organization’s long-term digital presence strategy. As the web grows ever more refined and personalized, it will no longer be just other entities like the government, Google and the DOJ that expect your site to function with all possible populations in mind. Individual users of all backgrounds, abilities and experience will expect and demand that your site be clear, easy to use and accessible to all.
Prohibited discrimination may include, among other things, firing or refusing to hire someone based on a real or perceived disability, segregation, and harassment based on a disability. Covered entities are also required to provide reasonable accommodations to job applicants and employees with disabilities. A reasonable accommodation is a change in the way things are typically done that the person needs because of a disability, and can include, among other things, special equipment that allows the person to perform the job, scheduling changes, and changes to the way work assignments are chosen or communicated. An employer is not required to provide an accommodation that would involve undue hardship (significant difficulty or expense), and the individual who receives the accommodation must still perform the essential functions of the job and meet the normal performance requirements. An employee or applicant who currently engages in the illegal use of drugs is not considered qualified when a covered entity takes adverse action based on such use.
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.
State and local governments will often post documents on their websites using Portable Document Format (PDF). But PDF documents, or those in other image based formats, are often not accessible to blind people who use screen readers and people with low vision who use text enlargement programs or different color and font settings to read computer displays.
If you use outside resources for your web needs, or have a dedicated web person or company, call them immediately. If you have a department or staff, even better. But— if you are working on your own, you would do yourself and your business a favor to contact a reputable web developer to discuss how to make your site accessible and avoid possible lawsuits. The older your website, the more likely it is that it is NOT compliant. Take action now!
Talk to your web designer about other techniques that will make your site more user-friendly for people with disabilities. Worried that’s not in your budget? Consider the fact that DOJ fines start at $75,000. And it's still yet to be determined if a non-compliant website is liable for one fine or will be charge per page for each violation. As the recent lawsuits illustrate, though, settlements quickly add up into the millions.
Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Kentucky, Inc. v. Williams, was a case in which the Supreme Court interpreted the meaning of the phrase "substantially impairs" as used in the Americans with Disabilities Act. It reversed a Sixth Court of Appeals decision to grant a partial summary judgment in favor of the respondent, Ella Williams, that qualified her inability to perform manual job-related tasks as a disability. The Court held that the "major life activity" definition in evaluating the performance of manual tasks focuses the inquiry on whether Williams was unable to perform a range of tasks central to most people in carrying out the activities of daily living. The issue is not whether Williams was unable to perform her specific job tasks. Therefore, the determination of whether an impairment rises to the level of a disability is not limited to activities in the workplace solely, but rather to manual tasks in life in general. When the Supreme Court applied this standard, it found that the Court of Appeals had incorrectly determined the presence of a disability because it relied solely on her inability to perform specific manual work tasks, which was insufficient in proving the presence of a disability. The Court of Appeals should have taken into account the evidence presented that Williams retained the ability to do personal tasks and household chores, such activities being the nature of tasks most people do in their daily lives, and placed too much emphasis on her job disability. Since the evidence showed that Williams was performing normal daily tasks, it ruled that the Court of Appeals erred when it found that Williams was disabled. This ruling is now, however, no longer good law—it was invalidated by the ADAAA. In fact, Congress explicitly cited Toyota v. Williams in the text of the ADAAA itself as one of its driving influences for passing the ADAAA.
These statistics are especially important when you consider the potential spending power of people with disabilities. Unfortunately, if the website isn’t accessible, then it is excluding more than 60 million Americans14. Additionally, 71 percent of customers14 with disabilities will instantly leave the site if it does not meet their accessibility needs. Another 80 percent of customers14 with disabilities have stated that they will spend more on a website that has improved accessibility features. Fortunately, if you follow Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG)7, then you can appeal to millions of individuals who want to enjoy the same online experiences as their friends, family, and neighbors. Giving them the chance is not only right, but it is also in accordance with ADA regulations.
In 2001, for men of all working ages and women under 40, Current Population Survey data showed a sharp drop in the employment of disabled workers, leading at least two economists to attribute the cause to the Act. By contrast, a study in 2003 found that while the Act may have led to short term reactions by employers, in the long term, there were either positive or neutral consequences for wages and employment. In 2005 the rate of employment among disabled people increased to 45% of the population of disabled people.