If you’re concerned about web accessibility lawsuits filed under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), California’s Unruh Act, or other non-discrimination laws, you’re not alone — and you’ve got good cause to be concerned.
In 2022, the number of digital accessibility lawsuits increased substantially, with at least 2,387 lawsuits filed in federal court or California state court. The trend will likely continue in 2023, and while the Department of Justice (DOJ) has released guidance for business owners, the vast majority of major websites contain serious accessibility barriers.
Here’s the good news: Website accessibility is achievable, and most businesses can take simple, immediate steps to improve digital compliance. Below, we’ll explain the basics of the ADA, then provide a roadmap for achieving your compliance goals.
WCAG is a solid foundation for digital compliance
Title III of the ADA applies to private businesses (and nonprofits, and other “places of public accommodation"). It doesn’t contain technical standards for websites — which is reasonable, since the ADA became law in 1990, long before the internet was an essential part of our lives.
The DOJ is in the process of establishing digital accessibility standards for Title II of the ADA, which applies to state and local government entities. Those standards are widely expected to be the Level A/AA requirements of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), the international standards for digital accessibility.
Published by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), WCAG contains principles, guidelines, and success criteria, which can be used to evaluate digital content. The DOJ recommends using WCAG Level A/AA to test websites for Title III compliance — and with good reason.
Many web accessibility lawsuits cite WCAG
WCAG conformance is not explicitly required under the ADA (conformance means voluntarily following the standards).
But plaintiffs frequently use WCAG when making allegations of non-compliance. For example:
- In Robles v. Domino’s Pizza, LLC, the plaintiff, who has a visual disability, cited specific WCAG criteria that require accurate alternative text (also known as “alt text") for images, relevant hyperlink text, and keyboard accessibility.
- A recent wave of lawsuits filed against California acupuncturists focused on WCAG failures such as missing form labels, non-accessible PDFs, and improper use of semantic HTML.
- In Mejico v. Kraft Heinz Foods Company, the plaintiff alleged that www.koolaid.com was missing alternative text, relevant hyperlink text, and an HTML-defined language for each web page.
By following WCAG, business owners can limit their exposure to ADA lawsuits. And because WCAG reinforces the best practices of web design, conformance has other benefits: Accessible websites work better for every user, perform better in search engine rankings, and cost less to maintain over time.
Build your strategy for digital compliance
Whether you operate a small business, a non-profit, or a major enterprise, digital accessibility is essential. To start your accessibility initiative, you can take simple steps:
- Set a goal. Most businesses should aim for Level AA conformance with the latest version of WCAG (currently, WCAG 2.1). Read: What's The Difference Between WCAG Level A, Level AA, and Level AAA?
- Test your content for common accessibility barriers. Automated tests can be extraordinarily helpful, particularly in the first phase of a digital compliance plan. Read: How to Check WCAG Compliance: A Quick Guide.
- Communicate the importance of accessibility. Don’t assign the work to a single person or team; instead, build accessibility into your practices. Read: Five Strategies for Creating an Inclusive Design.
- Develop a long-term testing strategy. Most websites should perform WCAG audits every few months, but you may need to test more frequently if you update your content regularly. Read: How Often Should You Test Your Website for Accessibility?
- Publish an accessibility statement. Your accessibility statement provides users with disabilities with information about your website’s current level of conformance. It also provides options for reporting accessibility barriers. Read: Do I Need an Accessibility Statement On My Website?
While ADA compliance requires effort, it’s achievable — regardless of your business’s size or budget.
The Bureau of Internet Accessibility provides training resources, comprehensive accessibility audits, and free tools for testing WCAG conformance. We help organizations develop long-term, self-sustainable strategies for compliance.