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While all websites are subject to ADA Web Accessibility laws, some industries are targeted more frequently than others. In addition, we know that jurisdictions like New York and California tend to see more lawsuits brought than other states. Many of our clients will ask, “Do I need my site to be ADA Web Accessibility compliant?” We strongly advocate for accessibility compliance – sure, it is a means to mitigate the risk of a lawsuit, but it is just good business. One in four browsers has a disability that makes it difficult to navigate most websites. Ignoring these folks is ignoring 25% of your potential customer base. Why would you do that? In this time of inclusivity, web-accessible sites make sense.
Is your business at risk for ADA website accessibility lawsuits?
This article will examine which industries are more susceptible to ADA Web Accessibility lawsuits.
The need to have an accessible website should be your top priority today. The main factor driving this need has been increased web accessibility lawsuits.
In what legal experts have called a litigation tsunami, it’s mainly small to medium-sized businesses (SMBs) that have been hit with thousands of lawsuits and demand letters relating to website accessibility over the past two years. This increase in cases has triggered an alarm for SMBs and even prompted the National Retail Federation to issue a warning to businesses urging them to start taking web accessibility seriously.
Where’s the (Legal) Action?
Every industry must comply with web accessibility regulations, yet not all fields have been affected equally. Here are some trends that we are currently seeing in major sectors:
With the global boom in eCommerce, it should be no surprise that accessibility complaints against platforms supporting these businesses have also risen over the past year. From supermarkets to fashion brands, everyone can be a target.
The growing number of eCommerce lawsuits highlights an important issue: does a website in and of itself fall under standard accessibility regulations?
For instance, many accessibility laws, like the ADA, were created before the internet became as popular as today. If a website supports a physical business, it’s easy for a plaintiff to argue that the online platform is an extension of that shop. But what about a business that consists only of an online platform? The Ecommerce domain, fraught with stand-alone sites with no connection to a brick-and-mortar business, has been the testing ground for this question.
While courts have been far from unanimous, many federal-level rulings in the US have upheld the notion that a website-only enterprise is still subject to accessibility laws.
Consider the lawsuit against the California-based Scribd, a digital library that operates reading subscriptions. Scribd maintains no physical service centers, yet a Vermont court upheld the claim that the company’s site was subject to compliance with the ADA.
Restaurants and the Food Industry
Food services have been one of the industries to cash in on the digitization trend in recent years. Allowing customers to scout locations, peruse menus, and make orders online has allowed restaurants to expand their business exponentially.
The move to the web has also exposed the field to accessibility claims.
Many big names in the restaurant industry have made the list of lawsuits, including Dunkin’ Donuts and Domino’s Pizza, whose cases recently rose to the Supreme Court.
From these reports, it’s easy to get the impression that only big food chains are getting hit. But like all areas of accessibility litigation, the headlines can be misleading. It’s not only the household names that are getting served. On the contrary, it’s mostly the little guys caught up in the lawsuit wave.
The litigation trend against restaurants has brought many industry leaders to highlight the threat and urge businesses to take steps toward compliance.
In the Spring of 2019, Juan Carlos Gil, a legally blind Florida resident, filed lawsuits against dozens of AutoNation Inc. dealerships throughout Florida.
In his complaint, Gil claimed the dealerships’ websites were incompatible with his screen reader, which he used to navigate online content.
According to experts in the automotive industry, AutoNation is not alone. Dealerships all over the United States are being swept up in the accessibility litigation trend. The focus on car dealerships for plaintiffs has also drawn the attention of legal experts, who have highlighted the high risk for the field.
The finance industry was one of the first to be hit by accessibility compliance demands on a large scale.
One of the earliest cases involved finance giant Bank of America 2000. The bank agreed to improve its site’s user experience for blind people as part of a settlement that included a commitment to installing talking ATMs. Other banks that made the list of lawsuit defendants include Fleet Bank, Washington Mutual, Sovereign Bank, First Union, Bank One, and HSBC.
But the big names in the banking world aren’t the only ones sued. As legal experts have noted, targets have been as diverse as numerous. So it’s no wonder that as early as 2016, industry leaders have been warning banks of all sizes to start taking tangible steps toward web accessibility compliance.
The risk of legal liability is well known in the healthcare industry, primarily due to privacy and malpractice issues that are part and parcel of the industry.
However, accessibility compliance has also become a major incentive for lawsuits directed at the industry in recent years. This should come as no surprise. Many people with disabilities cope with medical conditions that prompt them to seek healthcare providers. The providers’ sites are most likely visited by people with disabilities, making them redundant if they are inaccessible.
A notable example of a healthcare accessibility suit includes the case of Wellpoint, a health insurance company. Wellpoint was served a lawsuit by two visually impaired people, who claimed that most of the features on the Wellpoint site were inaccessible to people with vision impairments. The case eventually settled, and Wellpoint committed to reconfiguring its website.
In another case, Tenet Healthcare, which operates three hospitals in Florida, was the subject of a class-action suit in which plaintiffs alleged that the hospitals’ websites were incompatible with screen readers.
Experts note the upward trend of accessibility cases in healthcare in 2020.
The education industry has been hit hard: a whopping fifty universities across the US were targeted in a single lawsuit, with the plaintiff alleging that the institutions’ sites were inaccessible.
What is essential about schools’ obligations for accessibility is that they tend to be amongst the most liable entities. As most schools are public institutions, they’re subject to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)which requires all public facilities and services to be accessible. In addition, since most schools receive some form of government funding, they are also required to keep the standards of the stricter Rehabilitation Act. Again, this law pertains to government institutions.
The issue of accessibility in education was made famous with several high-profile cases, such as the MIT- Harvard lawsuit filed in 2015. The plaintiff, in that case, called out the universities’ online education platforms for failing to cater to deaf individuals. Nearly four years later, the case reached at least a partial settlement, with Harvard agreeing to change its site.
The trend of lawsuits against educational institutions continued to rise throughout 2019. Over the years, targets in these suits have ranged from universities to public school districts.
Creating Accessibility for All
accessiBe was created to provide the solution businesses are desperate for in today’s ultra-regulated digital sphere: a reliable, simple, and straightforward platform that won’t cost an arm and a leg to deploy.