ADA website compliance is a hot topic among any business that has a website (and in today’s world, that really is 99% of them). You’ve likely seen news stories about companies that are getting sued or settling out of court for having a website that doesn’t comply with the American Disabilities Act and you’re also probably wondering if this affects you or your business.
Companies all over the country in a wide variety of industries are getting served with lawsuits because their websites don’t meet compliance standards. Here, we’ve compiled the top 10 most noteworthy ADA website compliance lawsuits and settlements, but before we get into those details, we’ll first define what ADA website compliance is and help you understand some of the most used terms.
What is ADA Website Compliance?
The American Disabilities Act was set forth in 1990 and required businesses and other public spaces to make accommodations for those with disabilities. You’re familiar with things like wheelchair ramps and handicapped parking spaces; these are things you see every day and have become a standard in today’s public world.
It was long debated as to whether the web was considered a “public space,” and now, we certainly can consider it so, as many courts are ruling in favor of the plaintiff in web compliance cases. Hence, there are standards that websites must meet for those with disabilities to access and use them properly.
Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0 and 2.1)
Web Content Accessibility Guidelines – WCAG – were put in place to help guide website owners and creators to build their websites with compliance in mind. Within those guidelines, there are new “releases” every so often as technology for disabled individuals continues to improve.
WCAG 2.0 is probably a term you’ve heard before and it was the latest “acceptable” set of guidelines to refer to. In June 2018, WCAG 2.1 was released, but there aren’t many differences between the two updates.
Within WCAG 2.0, there are also “levels” of acceptability for ADA website compliance:
- A = below acceptable
- AA = standard (and where you want to be)
- AAA = exceptional
WCAG 2.0 AA is the standard on which most website owners are operating and is considered acceptable. As a business owner, it’s important to know which set of standards you should be meeting, but most of these standards are very technical. Therefore, we recommend working with a web firm that specializes in ADA website compliance and is familiar with WCAG 2.0.
Now that you have a better understanding of what ADA website compliance is, read on to learn about some of the top ADA website compliance lawsuits and how your business could be targeted as well.
PS: It’s important to note that we don’t advise ADA website compliance so that you can avoid getting sued, but we strongly recommend it so that you can serve the nearly 1 in 5 people in the US that have a disability (and this data is as of 2012, so you can imagine that number may have grown).
Web accessibility for all is something we care about deeply and recommend that you implement it simply because it is the right thing to do.
Beyoncé is one of the world’s most recognizable pop superstars. She’s known for her music, her choreography, and fashion. What you wouldn’t connect Beyoncé to, though, is a website that doesn’t meet accessibility standards.
The lawsuit began with a class-action lawsuit filed by Mary Conor. Mary is a visually impaired woman from New York who claimed that she couldn’t access key features of Beyoncé’s website because it wasn’t built or maintained to meet WCAG 2.0 AA standards.
Some elements of the lawsuit included:
- No alt-text on images – images on every website must include an element called an “alt-tag,” which gives screen readers an idea of what the image is for. For example, if you are selling a black, sparkly purse, you will want your alt-tag to read just that.
- No accessible drop-down menus – accessible drop-down menus allow those with visual impairments the ability to click through all pages of a website.
- No keyboard access – screen reading software looks to keyboard movement to help visually impaired users navigate web pages through the website. If keyboard tabbing abilities aren’t in place, someone using a screen reader would have a hard time accessing pages throughout the website.
The above issues are just a few of what I am sure were many others. Oftentimes, if a website is “flashy” and includes a ton of functionality, ADA website compliance is harder to meet – but it can be done with the right technical team in place.
The article I cite below is from June 2017 and states that the lawsuit against Winn-Dixie is the first of its kind. In this case, a suit was filed against Winn-Dixie’s website because their web presence is so heavily integrated with their physical locations.
“One of the main questions Scola was tasked with deciding was whether the website is a “place of public accommodation” under the ADA. Because the site is “heavily integrated” with Winn-Dixie’s stores, it is, Scola ruled.”
In 2017, lawsuits against companies for ADA website compliance were not nearly as common and based on this article, you can see that lawyers had to prove that the web presence was closely related to Winn-Dixie’s physical location. Nowadays, we are seeing that websites are being held to the same standards as physical locations as it relates to ADA. Websites are now a public space.
The lawsuit against Winn-Dixie was on the basis that those with visual impairments couldn’t access the website using their screen reading software. The individual that set the lawsuit in motion claimed that the website didn’t meet WCAG 2.0 AA standards. According to the article, Winn-Dixie set aside $250,000 to update their website to meet those standards.
Industry: Restaurants/Food & Beverage
A blind man filed a lawsuit against Domino’s in September 2016 and claimed that he was unable to order customized pizza or take advantage of online-only discounts because both the website and mobile app wouldn’t work with his screen reading software.
Neither the website or app met basic Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) and a judge ruled in favor of Guillermo Robles, the man who filed the lawsuit.
Fox News Network
Like the Domino’s Pizza case, Luc Burbon, a visually impaired individual, sued the Fox News Network because it didn’t meet WCAG 2.0 standards. According to the article cited below, the website blocked Luc from being able to receive goods and services available at Fox News’ physical locations (including live broadcasts and tapings that audience members can attend).
The case was ultimately settled and dismissed, on the condition that Fox News made changes to their website to meet ADA standards.
Industry: Restaurants/Food & Beverage
In an article dated January 2018, a class action lawsuit was filed against Burger King by a visually-impaired woman. According to the plaintiff, the website was not fully accessible to her and other visually impaired individuals.
Like the above 2 cases with Domino’s and Fox News, the individuals involved were using screen reading software to understand and interact with the website. Because there were no alt-tags or other features in place, the plaintiff reached significant barriers in accessing basic information on the website.
In 2017 – 2018, Nike was sued by Maria Mendizabal, a visually impaired individual and the lawsuit included both Nike.com and Converse.com. Like the above cases, the plaintiff argued that the website would not work for those using screen reading software. There were no alt-tags in place for images, empty links without text, etc.
The case was ultimately dismissed as the Nike and the plaintiff reached a settlement agreement.
Blue Apron is an online business that provides delivered meal kits to those that subscribe to their service. The plaintiff in this case claimed that Blue Apron did not meet WCAG 2.0 standards, which hindered visually impaired individuals the ability to use basic features on the website.
Like many of the above cases noted, there were no alt-tags in place, no captions on videos that explained key features/benefits of the Blue Apron service, and more.
Blue Apron attempted to have the case dismissed, but the District Court in New Hampshire denied that motion.
CVS is one of the largest convenience/pharmacy stores in the United States (hence the industry titled with medicine). In 2017, Kyla Reed, brought a case against CVS to curt after claiming that blind individuals are not able to access key features of the website that are directly integrated with its physical location. For example, if a blind person is unable to order prescriptions online, that is in direct violation with the ADA.
Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc.
Industry: Retail/Home Décor
This case took place in 2017. Sean Gorecki, a legally blind individual using the JAWS screen reading software, claimed that Hobby Lobby’s website was inaccessible using the JAWS tool.
There are similarities here in what we’ve seen in other cases above. Court ruled that Hobby Lobby’s website is to be considered a “public space” under the ADA and as such, must meet WCAG 2.0 standards.
Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology were both sued in 2016 because their websites failed to make their massive open online courses, guest lectures, and other video content accessible to people who are deaf.
The National Association of the Deaf (NAD) were the ones who brought the case up against Harvard and MIT, claiming that both schools discriminated against deaf people as they failed to provide captions for their online content. In 2016, a judge denied Harvard’s and MIT’s motion to dismiss the case and it is still ongoing.
How to Make Your Website ADA Compliant
You may have noticed a common theme among these cases. Most of these cases’ plaintiffs were visually impaired individuals that couldn’t use their screen reading software with a website. It’s vital to note that disabilities extend well beyond blind individuals and all companies should adhere to all-encompassing best practices as it relates to ADA website compliance.
If you are looking to make your website ADA compliant, we strongly recommend reaching out to a web firm that specializes in and is familiar with WCAG 2.0 standards. Here at Atilus, we have a full, in-house team that knows the ins and outs of ADA compliance.
To learn more about our ADA website compliance services, contact us today.