Soon businesses with an online presence will be required to make their websites accessible to persons with disabilities or face litigation in state and federal court. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) already requires businesses with a physical presence to comply with exacting and numerous standards (e.g., door width, counter height, sidewalk slope, etc.) The Department of Justice will soon expand these standards to include strict requirements for website accessibility. Here are five essential facts for any business with a website:
- Some courts have interpreted the ADA as requiring web accessibility today. (g. National Federation of the Blind v. Target Corp., (ND CA 2006) 452 F. Supp. 2d 946). Courts are divided on whether companies with an exclusively online presence must make their websites accessible. Earlier this year, a Vermont District Court ruled that Scribd, a California-based digital library that operates reading subscriptions on its website and mobile apps, was required to comply with Title III of the ADA by making its website and mobile apps accessible to blind subscribers. National Federation for the Blind v. Scribd, 2015 WL 1263336 (D. Vt. March 19, 2015). More recently, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in Cullen v. Netflix, Inc., Case No. 5:11-cv-01199-EJD (2015) affirmed its prior ruling that online-based retailers without retail facilities do not have to make their websites accessible to blind customers under the current standards of the ADA. Courts are currently resolving differences while awaiting further DOJ action.
- Plaintiff-side law firms are sending complaint letters to businesses complaining of online discrimination and demanding payments of approximately $25,000.
- The DOJ has stated that April 2016 is its target date for publishing proposed website accessibility regulations. DOJ regulations were intended to remove any ambiguity in the law as to whether the ADA requires website accessibility today. It remains to be seen whether the DOJ’s pronouncements will clarify the requirements or create even more confusion. It will open the door to a new area of ADA Title III lawsuits.
- In 2014 alone, over 4,400 ADA Title III lawsuits were filed in the U.S. California leads the states for number of lawsuits.
- It is widely expected that the DOJ will require businesses to conform to standards mirroring the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 (WCAG 2.0). These guidelines currently are published by the World Wide Web Consortium, the main international standards organization for the World Wide Web. Most websites do not currently meet these standards.
Stuart Tubis is a lawyer at Jeffer Mangels Butler & Mitchell LLP and a member of JMBM’s ADA Compliance & Defense Group. Stu counsels businesses on the full spectrum of ADA compliance issues and represents their interests in civil litigation and Department of Justice investigations. He has a background in technology, which helps in resolving the growing area of website accessibility issues. Contact Stuart Tubis at 415.984.9622 or STubis@jmbm.com.