There has been a rise in legal complaints against websites that allegedly do not comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The Bureau of Internet Accessibility (BOIA) predicted this rise in legal action in their April 2014 commentary “Banking on Website Accessibility Lawsuits“ noting that people with visual, auditory, cognitive recognition, speech or physical special needs have difficulties accessing many popular banking websites due to the startling lack of support for assistive technology.
“Over the past two months, BOIA has seen a 300% increase in requests for ADA Website Compliance Reports by law firms – many of which are using the documents as addendums in formal legal complaints,” said Mark Shapiro, president of the Bureau of Internet Accessibility. “Website accessibility is no longer just an altruistic pursuit. There are legal requirements with an active community aggressively pursuing organizations whose websites are not in compliance.”
“For-profit and not-for-profit entities rely on their website as a key adjunct for their business activities, customer and client transactions. It is therefore not surprising that litigation may result if such websites are not accessible to individuals with disabilities,” said Frank C. Morris, Jr., a member of the law firm Epstein Becker & Green PC.
The question then becomes why many defendants are claiming that website accessibility can be ignored? While some have claimed that it is not specifically mentioned in Title III of the ADA, the U.S. Department of Justice feels otherwise, going so far as to announce that specific language will be added to the ADA to include the term “website” by next March, likely spurring additional rounds of litigation.
The reality is that websites are considered “places that require public accommodation” according to the U.S. Department of Justice, falling under the purview of ADA title III. Consider recent complaints against H&R Block and Florida State University. The U.S. Department of Justice entered a Consent Decree with H&R Block requiring the accessibility of H&R Block’s websites. The U.S. Department of Justice further required Florida State University to “conform to, at a minimum, the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 Level AA” and gave them 90 days to comply.
BOIA predicts that additional high-profile lawsuits will escalate through the end of this year spawning a flurry of lawsuits towards mid-tiered traffic websites. Organizations looking to protect their electronic real estate and comply with accessibility standards need to begin by testing their current level of accessibility and address the issues identified.