Over 1 billion people have significant disabilities worldwide, including 60 million in the United States alone. As ADA rules for digital accessibility become stricter, the urgency to achieve compliance rapidly increases. To that end, web accessibility lawsuits are rising, making it crucial for your company to avoid being non-ADA compliant. 

Just how frequent are legal actions for non-compliance? Over 3,500 accessibility-related lawsuits were filed against company websites in 2020 alone. Furthermore, there was a 15% increase in website accessibility lawsuits in 2021, with 74% against E-commerce companies. 

Beyond the potential for lawsuits, legal compliance is also increasingly critical from a business standpoint. Notably, 71% of shoppers with disabilities abandon websites without digital accessibility, a worrying statistic for all E-commerce businesses.

What Does ADA Web Compliance Require?

The ADA states that all electronic and information technology, such as websites and apps, must be accessible to everybody, including folks with disabilities of various kinds. So, for example, your website must accommodate those who are deaf by providing captions and, in some cases, transcripts for your videos.

Yet, until recently, it hasn’t been clear whether ADA law applies to websites or digital content. Recent court cases show that practically all websites have ADA violations for digital inaccessibility, exposing them to legal risk if they’re not accessible. This risk is particularly true for businesses with commercial interests and websites connected to a physical location. ADA ambiguity confuses and costs millions of dollars for firms attempting to comply.

Interestingly, not everybody realizes they need legal protection. A 2019 WebAIM Million study of large and small companies found that 98% of their web pages violated disability rights. It may seem optional, or like a nice thing to offer your users when, in fact, accessibility is a necessity and legally required. When you start a business and create a website, ADA violations may not be top of mind. But remember that ADA violations impact nearly any U.S. website (e.g., public, E-commerce, and charity).  

Websites that must be in ADA compliance include:

  • Businesses that employ over fifteen staff members and operate more than twenty weeks a year, 
  • Charities and NGOs
  • Local and state agencies and government bodies

What About Governmental Guidance?

There are still no definitive U.S. government guidelines for what makes a website ADA compliant. Therefore, businesses and organizations must rely on the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) for clarity to comply.

In 2017 the Trump Administration placed ADA guidelines on its inactive list. So it wasn’t a priority for the administration, which didn’t add any new policies. This lack of attention put Trump’s policy squarely at odds with the DOJ during Obama’s presidency. To that end, President Biden wants to ensure digital accessibility improves during his time in office.

The History of the ADA: Past, Present, and Future

The ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act ) was passed in 1990 as a civil rights law. Initially, it was meant to protect against discrimination against disabled people in the physical domain: hiring procedures, for instance, or equal access to a public building.

Title II of the act applies to state and local government entities, whereas Title III applies to public accommodation and commercial entities. As time passed, disability rights campaigners pushed for the act to apply to the digital world.

It wasn’t until 2010 that the Americans Disabilities Act Standards for Accessible Design was signed into law. Then, in 2011 and 2012, the Department of Justice revised Titles II and III, stipulating that Title III includes web accessibility for all, irrespective of disability.

Noteworthy ADA Violation Examples

 In 2017, the first trial in a web accessibility lawsuit took place in Florida. Winn Dixie’s inaccessible website violated ADA standards leading to $250,000 in remediation fines. Domino’s Pizza was sued that same year for its inaccessible website, and in 2019 the court sided with the plaintiff.

In 2015, edX, an online course provider founded by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Harvard University, was taken to court by the National Association for The Deaf. They argued that edX courses were inaccessible to those with hearing difficulties.

edX entered a four-year agreement to ensure all courses were accessible within eighteen months. Next, they had to hire new web accessibility staff and institute an accessibility training policy for employees related to their website. Moreover, several other internationally-recognized companies have faced legal jeopardy for non-compliance. 

But it’s not just large corporations and academic institutions at risk of lawsuits. For example, a blind woman sued Whisper Restaurant & Lounge in 2018 because she couldn’t read the menu or make a reservation online. Furthermore, a suit was filed against a small grip-tape business in New York in 2020 for mislabeling buttons on its website. The reason? A lack of” alt-text” to describe a website image to blind end users, among other accessibility issues.

Circumstances around the law’s original creation in 1990 help explain its intentions. Some lawmakers were worried the ADA would cause government overreach. They didn’t want the creation of a new government agency to enforce the law like the Drugs Enforcement Association for narcotics. Instead, they relied on private enforcement, which empowered people to file lawsuits if they felt they were experiencing discrimination.

Meeting ADA Compliance is Just Good Business

The risk of being sued is real, but the mitigating risk isn’t the only good reason to comply with the ADA. A more accessible website means you’re available to everyone, regardless of ability. It will also almost certainly improve your site’s SEO, attract more traffic, and bring in and retain more customers.

That said, an ADA-compliant website can significantly support a company’s bottom line, especially for companies with E-commerce storefronts. For example, retail E-commerce sales in the U.S. reached roughly $4.9 trillion in 2021. These numbers will increase 50 percent over the next four years, reaching about 7.4 trillion dollars by 2025.  Digitally accessible websites should benefit significantly from this projected sales trend, considering the millions of potential customers with disabilities. 

Notably, The Disability Equality Index Top 45 Accessibility Champions: 

  • See 28 times more revenue
  • Two times more net income 
  • 30-fold improved performance in profit margins over competitors 

But most importantly, offering digital accessibility is simply the right thing to do. The ADA’s history helps explain that reaching compliance isn’t only in your business’s best interest. It’s fair and helpful for everyone using the Internet. 

5 Tips to Prevent ADA non-compliance

1. Audit Your Website to Ensure it Complies 

Always conduct a manual, hands-on website audit to identify potential violations of disability rights. For instance, screen reader software for web navigation (i.e., NVDA, JAWS, and VoiceOver) helps visually impaired users access and use websites. So visually impaired users should do a screen reader software test for your website audit. 

2. Rectify All Accessibility Violations the Audit Reveals

Look for violations like insufficient color contrast, alt-image text issues, and video caption problems. A uniform layout design also makes websites more accessible for people with disabilities

3. Use a Policy that Assures Accessibility with Periodic Updates

Best practices to maintain digital accessibility include recurring website audits, testing by people with disabilities, and accessibility training for web page and content developers. 

4. Provide an Online Accessibility Statement 

Also, include your company’s contact information so people with disabilities have the option of reporting ADA violations. 

5. Back up AI Software Solutions with Manual Testing

Always include manual testing by the appropriate personnel to reinforce automated software audits. A practical accessibility widget should enable your developers to take a hands-on approach to ensure compliance. 

You’ve Been Sued for ADA Non-Compliance. Now What? 

UserWay can help. We review the status and legitimacy of each claim, so we can customize a compliance strategy that works for you. Plus, we provide essential technology to help you successfully integrate digital accessibility. You also get support from some of the best legal minds in compliance, providing invaluable peace of mind for your organization.    

Learn How UserWay Can Help with Compliance and Accessibility

As this article clearly states, you want to avoid violating ADA compliance. UserWay’s technology instantly identifies and repairs accessibility violations. Plus, our team of lawyers can even help you draft a legal response to demand letters and complaints.  

Avoid litigation

Answers to Common FAQs

We close with some insightful answers below. 

Why do Websites Need to be ADA Compliant?

To begin with, the ADA mandates that most businesses make their websites digitally accessible (Refer to section: “What Does ADA Web Compliance Require?”). So meeting ADA compliance safeguards your company from a legal standpoint. And related lawsuits can lead to expensive fines, placing a substantial burden on your staff that distracts from your daily business. But above all, making websites accessible is a moral commitment all companies should embrace. After all, websites should be accessible to everybody, including those with disabilities. 

If My Site isn’t ADA Compliant, Should I be Concerned by the Increase in Lawsuits?

Yes, because you can face a lawsuit for non-ADA compliance even if you’re a small to midsize company. Since 2010, there’s been an upward trend of ADA cases regarding digital content. In 2018, federal courts filed 2200 such lawsuits. By 2020, almost ten web ADA lawsuits were filed daily, potentially costing hundreds of thousands of dollars. This trend will only continue with the Biden administration’s commitment to stricter enforcement of disability laws.

How Severe Are Penalties for Not Being ADA Compliant?

Penalties are often severe. Even a first infraction can cost $55,000-$75,000, and repeat infractions as much as $150,000. To that end, costs can skyrocket depending on annual turnover, and the government may revoke financial support for the federally funded.