Wayfair, one of the internet’s leading retailers of home goods and furniture, is facing a lawsuit for alleged violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
Plaintiff Seana Cromitie, who is legally blind and uses a screen reader, filed the class action lawsuit in New York federal court on June 18, 2023. Cromitie claims that Wayfair’s website contains a number of barriers that prevent screen reader users from enjoying equal access to the company’s services.
This isn’t the first time that the eCommerce giant has faced complaints under the ADA: In 2019, a separate plaintiff alleged that Wayfair was inaccessible to people with hearing disabilities (PDF). That case was resolved in April 2020.
Cromitie’s lawsuit is part of a growing wave of web accessibility litigation filed under the ADA. Below, we’ll discuss the plaintiff’s allegations — and provide tips for avoiding (and responding to) ADA demands.
Wayfair’s website allegedly suffers from common accessibility barriers
Most websites have serious issues that impact accessibility, which opens the door for potential litigation.
In their annual analysis of the top 1 million website home pages, WebAIM (Web Accessibility In Mind) found that 96.3% of home pages had detectable failures of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).
WCAG is the consensus international standard for digital accessibility. However, Title III of the ADA does not explicitly require compliance with WCAG.
And while the Justice Department recommends testing content against WCAG’s Level A/AA criteria, the Department’s official guidance notes that “businesses and state and local governments can currently choose how they will ensure that the programs, services, and goods they provide online are accessible to people with disabilities.”
Nevertheless, WCAG is an essential resource for finding and fixing accessibility barriers. The class action complaint cites several specific issues with Wayfair’s website, which are addressed in WCAG:
- Missing alternative text (or alt text), which prevents users with visual disabilities from understanding the purpose of images.
- Broken and “empty” hyperlinks, which make navigation difficult.
- Lists that do not use appropriate HTML markup, which may cause screen readers to announce items out-of-order.
- Poor keyboard accessibility, which impacts people who use screen readers and other types of assistive technology (AT).
- Pop-ups with improper markup, which can be confusing and disorienting for non-visual users.
Unfortunately, these types of issues are extremely common: WebAIM’s 2023 analysis found that 58.2% of homepages had missing alt text for images, while 50.1% had empty links.
Many accessibility issues can be addressed easily — if developers are aware of them
Adding alternative text to an image takes a few seconds; removing a broken hyperlink takes even less time.
But when businesses ignore accessibility, their accessibility debt grows. Remediating thousands of issues on a major ecommerce website will require substantial investment, while building for accessibility will cost much less over time.
And while Wayfair is a major retailer, small businesses are also covered by Title III of the ADA — they have a responsibility to provide digital content that works for all users. Over the past several years, small businesses have been frequent targets for ADA lawsuits, and many plaintiffs allege the same types of issues cited in the Wayfair class action case.
Take steps to improve digital accessibility
To reduce legal risks and provide the best possible user experience, businesses should take action:
- Test content against the latest version of WCAG (currently, WCAG 2.1, with WCAG 2.2 expected for release in 2023).
- Develop an accessibility-first mindset. Make sure developers, designers, and content creators understand the basics of accessible design.
- Publish an accessibility statement that identifies known issues, explains testing methods, and invites users to submit feedback.
- Fix accessibility issues by following WCAG’s best practices. Have a remediation strategy that focuses on the barriers that affect real-life users.
- Keep testing content, particularly when adding new features and launching new products.
- If you receive an ADA demand letter, don’t panic. Read our guide to ADA website demand letters.
The Bureau of Internet Accessibility’s free automated website analysis provides a quick way to find common WCAG Level A/AA failures. We also provide on-site training, self-paced training, guided remediations, and other services to help organizations of all sizes reach their accessibility goals.