Multiple small businesses in Oklahoma are facing lawsuits for alleged violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
According to The Journal Record, the defendants include Distinctive Decor, which sells dinnerware and home decor, and Blue Seven, an Oklahoma City clothing retailer. Plaintiff Angela Wahab and law firm Stein Saks PLLC filed the lawsuits in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York in July, 2023.
“We didn’t even know that we were being sued,” said Marcus McEntire, owner of Distinctive Decor. “They’re suing me claiming my website isn’t ADA-compliant, but there’s no rules indicating what an ADA-compliant website even looks like.”
While the ADA doesn’t have technical requirements for websites, WCAG is a reliable standard
McEntire’s frustration is understandable. The Department of Justice (DOJ) has regularly interpreted Title III of the ADA as applicable to business websites and other digital products. However, the DOD has stopped short of issuing specific technical guidelines for web accessibility.
That may change in the near future. In 2022, the DOJ issued an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, which would establish the Level A/AA criteria of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) version 2.1 as the rules for Title II ADA compliance.
Title II of the ADA applies to government entities, not private businesses — but if the new rule becomes official, businesses could safely treat WCAG 2.1 Level AA as the de facto standards for compliance.
The Oklahoma lawsuits are part of a wave of ADA website litigation
New York law firms are responsible for more digital accessibility lawsuits than law firms from any other state, and New York law does not require defendants to be based in New York.
The Stein Saks law firm, which is based in New York City, filed hundreds of web accessibility lawsuits in 2022, citing alleged ADA violations. According to McEntire, the firm offered to settle with Distinctive Decor for $20,000.
McEntire says he’s leaning towards a settlement. The total costs of an ADA defense can easily exceed $20,000 — and even successful ADA defenses carry significant costs for businesses.
But while ADA lawsuits have become more common in recent years, businesses have options. WCAG is written as a series of simple pass-or-fail rules called success criteria, which address the accessibility barriers that affect users with disabilities.
Some examples of common barriers cited in ADA lawsuits include:
- Poor color contrast, which may make text unreadable for people with color vision deficiency and other vision disabilities.
- Poor keyboard support, which impacts people who use a keyboard alone to browse the internet.
- Missing or duplicate page titles, which may make navigation difficult for people who use assistive technologies.
- Missing image alternative text (also called alt text), which impacts people who use screen readers (software that converts text to audio).
- Missing captions or transcripts, which may impact Deaf users and people with hearing disabilities.
Most accessibility improvements can be implemented easily and inexpensively — but businesses must prioritize accessibility when building their content.
ADA lawsuits can be expensive, but digital accessibility is good for business
When discussing digital accessibility, small business owners often focus on the costs of remediation.
But accessibility isn’t just about compliance. When digital products work for everyone, businesses can provide customers with better online experiences — and engage with the 25% of U.S. adults who live with disabilities.
Following WCAG can open up the tremendous business benefits of inclusive design:
- Accessible websites tend to perform better in search engine rankings and experience higher rates of user engagement.
- For eCommerce stores, an accessible approach can increase customer retention and other key metrics.
- Accessible digital content showcases a brand’s values, which can increase word of mouth.
- Accessible websites tend to have cleaner code and markup, which can reduce the cost of site updates and redesigns.
Build a sustainable approach to digital accessibility
At the Bureau of Internet Accessibility, our goal is to aid organizations of all sizes — including small businesses — as they develop long-term strategies for digital compliance. By combining powerful automation with manual audits performed by accessibility experts, we help our clients develop an accessibility-first mindset.