The number of website accessibility lawsuits filed in federal court rose to at least 2,258 in 2018, up from 814 in 2017 — almost tripling year-over-year, less than 200 away from doing so.
Why is there an increase in website accessibility lawsuits?
Alarming to some, the rise in lawsuits is not a surprise to many who have followed the progressions. Mostly centered on allegations that websites and apps are not accessible to people who are blind or visually-impaired and who use assistive technology like screen readers, the lawsuits represent people exercising their rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). As web accessibility awareness continues to grow, and as long as the Department of Justice (DOJ) does not act to prescribe by law website accessibility standards, then it is likely that individuals will continue to use lawsuits as a method of moving the needle toward accessible web experiences.
Does the ADA apply to websites?
Increasingly, as the rise in lawsuits is showing and as evidenced by plaintiff-favored rulings, the answer is yes. The ADA prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in places of public accommodation. As the January 2019 reversal in the Domino's accessibility case highlights very clearly, these places don't need to be physical locations. As the summary of that reversal states, "Even though customers primarily accessed the website and app away from Domino's physical restaurants, the panel stated that the ADA applies to the services of a public accommodation, not services in a place of public accommodation."
Will the increase in web accessibility lawsuits continue?
Of course, nobody knows the answer to this, but there is certainly reason to believe so. Mark Shapiro, President of the Bureau of Internet Accessibility, said this when asked the question: "Based on the current trends, we think website accessibility lawsuits will not only continue, but will continue to increase in volume. At this point, we would not be surprised if the number of lawsuits filed in 2019 is 2.5 times higher than 2018." Considering suits nearly tripled in 2018, this would mean a significant surge within a span of just a few years.
How can companies protect themselves from web accessibility lawsuits?
As cases like the Beyonce accessibility case show, lawsuits can hit just about any industry. Fortunately, there are defined web accessibility standards that can help companies create accessible websites and apps, and ultimately help protect them from lawsuits. While the ADA doesn't specify a particular set of standards, judges are determining that complying with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) would provide a reasonable level of accessibility and that remediating sites and apps according to WCAG can be sufficient. Therefore, as the most universally-accepted accessibility standards, our recommendation is to comply with WCAG for protection from accessibility lawsuits.
Recently, we have rolled out two new features to our already-robust ongoing support program.
- Protect your business with a letter of reasonable accessibility
- Live 24/7 accessibility support for website visitors
Here to help you with your accessibility needs
If you have received a demand letter, want to understand if and how the ADA applies to your website, or are ready to begin your accessibility efforts, contact us. Our team of accessibility experts is ready to answer your questions and create a plan for your unique business needs. We look forward to helping you achieve, maintain, and prove digital compliance.