Many of us take for granted the ability to ‘surf’ the Internet. Individuals with disabilities, especially those who are visually impaired, must rely on technology that can read aloud the information on a website; however, web reader programs can only read the information if it meets certain criteria. Several large corporations have faced legal challenges over the last decade related to website accessibility. In recent years there has been a growing trend in the number of lawsuits targeting smaller businesses alleging violations of Title III of the Americans With Disabilities Act (“ADA”) based on website accessibility. Title III prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in places of public accommodation. There is a split among federal courts whether a website is a ‘place of public accommodation.’ But the growing trend is that a website is a place of public accommodation if it offers information or items for sale to the general public.
While the Department of Justice has issued extensive regulations regarding accessibility standards for physicals locations, it has avoided doing so for websites. Without clear guidance from the government, industry standards have been developed. The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) develops web standards, including Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) that makes web content accessible to people with disabilities. In fact, several federal Courts have recognized WCAG as the industry standard for compliance with the ADA. The most recent version, WCAG 2.1, was just published in June 2018. The prior version, WCAG 2.0 had been in effect since 2008. Whether you are a large business or a sole proprietorship, if you have a website intended to provide information or sell your wares to the general public, it is important to ensure that the content of the website at least meets the standards of WCAG 2.0.
To determine whether your website meets the WCAG 2.0 criteria you can either purchase software or use the services of a vendor. In fact, a simple search on the Internet will result in numerous vendors that offer a free consultation or free assessment. That information can then be used to identify and implement updates. It is necessary to monitor or audit a website periodically to ensure continued compliance. Moreover, given the state of technology, and the prevalence of mobile apps, it is just as important to ensure that any mobile app associated with your company is also compliant.
In any industry it is important to make products and services available to all customers. It is also important to recognize that technology will continue to play a larger role in commerce. In most instances your standard commercial general liability insurance policy may provide defense costs associated with a legal claim, but it will not cover any other costs. Given that the attorney fees of a claimant are recoverable under the ADA, such fees could be significant if a lawsuit is filed.
Reminger would welcome the opportunity to assist you with any issues related to website accessibility. Please contact us if you would like further information or assistance.