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Attack of the ADA Compliant Lawsuits in California

Author: Kathryn Lee Colgan

December 9, 2019 10:00am

Currently in California there is a full frontal assault of lawsuits being waged against companies and employers big and small pertaining to ADA compliant websites. The most common type of suit being brought is with respect to the lack of proper access for the visually impaired. However, any business that is a “public accommodation” must assure its website complies with all disabilities including visual, neurological, hearing, and physical.

In this digital age, websites bring in customers and new clients and, therefore, are essentially indispensable. Unfortunately, with the state of the law being relatively undefined and indistinct, companies are finding themselves swimming upstream attempting to comply with the ever changing regulations. The law, as written today, immediately puts companies and employers at a disadvantage as no real defense exists once a lawsuit is filed. Most plaintiffs file said claims under the Unruh Act stating the website violates the ADA, thus circumventing the need to show the violation was intentional. To make matters worse plaintiffs can still recover attorney’s fees and costs associated with bringing the action and they may collect penalties set at $4,000.00/ violation. These violations can add up fast, thus it is critical to get your site up to code compliance before a suit is brought.

While the Department of Justice was supposed to develop clear guidelines for code compliant websites, to date, they have failed to do so. Therefore, businesses must look to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 or 2.1, as the reasonable standard for compliance. While getting a company’s website up to compliant standards can be expensive, at $4,000.00/violation a lawsuit can be much more costly.

The WCAG are extensive and complicated, however taking the following initial steps can set your website in the right direction.

  1. You can start by posting a statement expressing your company’s commitment to accessibility and indicate you have made strides toward making the site ADA compliant to assure customers of all abilities can navigate and use your site. Additionally, it is a good idea to post a number or email so that website visitors can request accessible information or services so that if there is an issue with the site, you can provide a quick response to users with disabilities.
  2. Make all text on your site readable and use Cascading Style Sheets(CSS) to control the visual presentation of the text and assure the spacing between lines of texts, paragraphs, and individual letters are proper.
  3. Be sure you are providing text alternatives for non-text content. This includes alternative tags used to describe images, assuring captions are provided for video and labels are used for buttons and form control. Captions should also be included on videos for the hearing impaired
  4. Avoid negative physical reactions, like seizures assuring no content or pictures on the website flash at a rate more than three times/second.
  5. Finally, make the website easy to navigate by providing things like page numbers, a navigation bar, and/or a site map to make navigation through your site as user friendly as possible.

Takeaway

While the above provides an outline of a few small steps companies can take toward proper compliance standards, to assure you avoid these potential costly suits altogether it is highly recommended you retain a competent IT person to test your website for ADA compliance. While there are some “free” testing tools on the internet, these unfortunately are very limited in what they can test and may fall short if you are trying to assure full compliance. Thus, when it comes to web accessibility suits, staying up to date on the ever-changing regulations and assuring your IT team is a step ahead can help your company avoid a costly suit in the future.

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