The Americans with Disabilities Act is usually associated with assuring access to buildings. But the ADA can also involve access to other facilities such as websites and apps. In fact, there has been large increase in business litigation involving claims against small businesses because their websites and apps did not comply with Title III of the ADA.
Last October, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed a lower court decision allowing visually impaired people to sue Domino’s Pizza because their website was inaccessible. The lower court ruled that online properties, in addition to physical structures, must meet accessibility requirements.
Pennsylvania has joined California, New York and Florida which have experienced many these lawsuits. A startling 98% of more than one million home pages of large and small companies did not meet all the recommended website accessibility requirements, according to a 2019 study.
Most claims involve visually impaired individuals who use a screen reader. This is software that has website content read aloud when a user moves their cursor over the website. Claims involved allegations that the users could not access information because the website coding was incompatible with the screen reader.
In addition to retailers, lawsuits may eventually include restaurants, doctor’s offices, auto repair shops and a wide array of other small businesses. Businesses who lose these lawsuits may have to pay some or all the plaintiff’s attorney fees, their own legal expenses and agree to make their websites ADA compliant. Some states may also impose other legal damages.
Information technology experts should help design websites to avoid these lawsuits. The sites need to be regularly evaluated and updated. Free tools, including those offered by the Bureau of Internet Accessibility, are also helpful.
Small businesses also need to avoid using fonts and colors that have insufficient contrast that is indistinguishable to low-vision users. Descriptions for important images, assuring that pop-ups have proper coding for screen readers and a logical tab order for buttons and headings may also avoid liability.
Business facilities and operations need to be constantly reviewed to avoid exposure to lawsuits. An attorney can assist with this compliance.