The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is famous for initiating the emergence of wheelchair ramps and disabled parking spaces. When technology grew, so did website designers’ responsibility: now they need to build an ADA compliant website to meet the needs of the impaired.

Even though the ADA was established before the Internet, its creators deliberately designed it to evolve. A central feature of the law and a prime example of its versatility is the notion of “places or public accommodation.” As technology has advanced, we now find that websites are essential places for shopping, learning, sharing, and communicating, and are thus covered by the ADA.

The ADA’s passing produced a new legal cottage industry that used the judicial system to keep corporations accountable. Many of these legal claims have been legitimate. Others have been used by prosecutors to just make quick money. This is ever-more the situation now as legal actions claiming websites or mobile apps violate the ADA have overwhelmed the US.

The reality is, these cases have merit. The WebAIM project at Utah State University has been conducting accessibility tests on homepages for the top million websites for the past two years. 98.1% of homepages had identifiable WCAG 2 errors, the 2019 study reported. The truth is, unless a website is intentionally designed and built to allow accessibility, it’s just not. And the increasing recognition that, as a civil right, digital accessibility places more pressure on website owners to deal with these problems or face legal action. Although it would be good to voluntarily comply with the ADA for website owners, the fact is that legal measures have been necessary to compel compliance.

Website designers are now exploring how each feature on a web page can be adapted to address their disabled users’ needs. Everything on a website should comply with the four categories established by the ADA so that each website element can be used and understood by everybody.

Businesses that don’t have an ADA Compliant Website are ‘sitting ducks’ for lawsuits

Keith Cate
From large corporations to mom and pop businesses, most have a Web site. But did you know your website could be a sitting duck for a lawsuit that could cost you tens of thousands of dollars? Business websites, just like the physical locations, are required under the Americans with Disabilities Act to be accessible.

Jennifer Leigh
And that includes customers who are blind or deaf. An 8 On Your Side, investigator Shannon Behnken joins us now. Keith and I were so interested when we heard you were doing the story because I don’t think a lot of businesses even know about this being a possibility.

Shannon Behnken
This is something so many businesses haven’t heard of. I’ve been hearing from them all day. But if your website isn’t accessible, those who are visually or hearing impaired can’t use the site. And some of those people are fighting back. I found disabled activists filing ADA website lawsuits by the sackful.

Ben Tandas and Donna Danzel on Island Comfort Footwear in Westfield Countryside Mall in Clearwater.

Ben Tandas
And this is my shipping area where I do my Web orders.

Shannon Behnken
They decided to expand by selling their shoes online. They launched a Web site and then bam, a lawsuit.

A summons on a Thursday night at eight o’clock at night in the dark. Got a knock on the door.

A blind woman in South Florida claims that her website isn’t compatible with screen reading software used by the visually impaired, leaving her unable to buy their shoes.

Ben Tandas
It’s a $65 a month Web site. You know…

Shannon Behnken
Is there ever any mention on what you need to do to make sure you’re ADA compliant?

Ben Tandas
Absolutely not. No mention at all.

You Must Have an ADA Compliant Website or You Could Risk FinesShannon Behnken
When most business owners think ADA, they think handicapped parking spots, ramps and grab bars, and restrooms. ADA lawsuits are nothing new. But now, the spotlight is on websites. Two thousand two hundred eighty-five ADA website lawsuits were filed in federal courts in 2018, a yearly increase of a whopping 181%.

Emily Fuller, the woman who sued the Clearwater shoe store, has gone after one hundred and seventy-five businesses in the past two years shown here by all of these lawsuits. First, she went after big names like Sephora, Home Depot, and Chick-fil-A. Now she has sued a store that sells Tampa Bay Lightning gear inside Amalie Arena.

Critics call these mass lawsuits a shakedown.

Ben Tandas
The attorneys are telling us – we spoke to many – they’re saying you can’t fight this. If you fight this, you’re going to quadruple your bill. There’s nothing you can do. Just write him a check.

Shannon Behnken
Companies settle because there’s no defense to ignoring ADA requirements. Miss Fuller’s attorney tells me his client is an advocate fighting to improve society, and these lawsuits are not going away.

To better understand the struggle facing the blind, I sat down with Louise Payne, a Tampa woman who uses a screen reader to do things like shopping “…Suspected Seminole Heights serial killer speaks…” To read the news and use Facebook. When websites don’t have the correct codes to communicate with her software, she’s excluded.

It has to be really frustrating, you get this far, and you can’t get past that one thing.

Louis Payne
Exactly.

Shannon Behnken
Frustrations like that are why Chris Danielsen of the National Federation of the Blind tells me businesses need to update their websites. But he believes education and negotiation should come first.

Chris Danielsen
Rather than spraying businesses with a fire hose of litigation, a much more thoughtful and transparent approach would be a better form of advocacy.

Shannon Behnken
Tandas agrees with that. He takes this lawsuit personally and says he would have helped Miss Fuller and changed his Web site if she had just asked.

Ben Tandas
Now, we service everyone here as if they’re our family.

Shannon Behnken
So who’s making money on this? Well, the plaintiffs aren’t supposed to receive any money because they aren’t allowed to sue for damages under the ADA. But the lawyers are collecting attorney’s fees that could range from a couple thousand dollars to twenty thousand dollars and a lot more if this goes to trial. And that’s why so many people settle.

Jennifer Leigh
But that could crush a small business. I mean, it just begs the question, how do you make sure that your website is compliant and is a simple fix it?

Shannon Behnken
Sometimes it can be simple, but oftentimes it’s not. It’s a lot easier to do this on the front end when you’re launching your website. You need to make sure that your web developer knows how to make your site compatible. There are industry-recognized standards and various companies that you can hire to help you with your site. Also, the National Federation of the Blind and the local Lighthouse for the Blind can help. I spoke with both of them, and they said they’ll do audits and they’ll help people for free, in some cases.

Keith Cate
The guy at the shoe store said it was costing $65 a month for his website. But if you add this feature that allows the blind to read, is that a lot more money?

Shannon Behnken
It could be depending on how complicated your site is. A simple site, I talked to folks who do audits, sixteen hundred dollars to audit your site, more money to make sure that it is compatible. So, it can add up. But you’re also… you’re following the law, and you’re opening up for potential customers that otherwise wouldn’t be able to use your site.

You can get an ADA compliant website

To meet ADA compliance requirements, there are four categories that the ADA has laid out so that each element on a website can be used and understood by everyone. To pass as an ADA compliant website, it must meet these standards:

  • Perceivable
  • Operable
  • Understandable
  • Robust.

Ensure You Have an ADA Compliant Website: Click here if you’re ready to get your compliance audit.

Hopefully, this report has made you realize that having a website that is ADA compliant is extremely important. Focused Idea can help you out with this. Get in touch with us and we can answer your questions.

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