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What is the ADA, and how does it apply to websites?
The ADA is the acronym for the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in all areas of public life, including employment, transportation, and education.
The ADA does not specifically mention the internet or websites; however, some courts have applied the ADA to websites. Per the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) interpretation of the ADA, all websites open to the public must be accessible to people with disabilities. As a result, website owners must make sure that people with hearing, vision, and other impairments can use their sites.
Most website owners don’t know that their websites have to be accessible to people with disabilities. They think that the platforms they use, like Shopify, WordPress, Magento, Wix, Square, and others, already meet this legal requirement. But the reality is that no platform is fully or even partially accessible without manual effort by the website owner. Every business owner we have spoken to concurs that digital accessibility is good and can help increase reach and appeal to a wider audience.
To make the web accessible for everyone, websites need to be coded in a way that allows users with disabilities full access.
Business websites must be accessible to people with disabilities.
Digital accessibility is the process of making digital products, such as websites, mobile apps, and other online tools, accessible to everyone. It is about ensuring all users can access the same information, regardless of the impairments they may have.
WCAG guidelines are used by our compliance experts to help businesses audit and fix their websites so that they are in line with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
Different types of disabilities that need to be Considered while making a website
Accessibility means the ability to access. It’s all about universal design because a universal design benefits everyone, not just people with disabilities.
It is estimated that one out of every five Americans lives with some sort of disability that affects their day-to-day lives, and technology is a major part of their lives. Thus, a website must be designed for everyone, regardless of impairment.
Suppose visitors to your website are blind or low vision users, people with learning difficulties, hearing impairments, dexterity issues, are unable to read, or have cognitive impairments such as Down’s syndrome. In that case, they must be able to access your content.
To be considered accessible, you must remove any barriers that prevent these groups from interacting correctly on the page by using assistive technologies like screen readers, which read aloud what’s written into a web page.
AI-assisted technologies and screen reader software help people with different kinds of disabilities get to digital information and content. Most importantly, websites need to be able to work on different devices and in a structured way, even for people with slow internet speeds. A website needs to be designed in such a way that there are no complicated steps involved to understand, process, or complete a transaction online.
Your website needs to be accessible for users with disabilities, including but not limited to:
- Hearing loss
- Low vision
- Learning Disabilities
- Cognitive limitations
- Speech Disabilities
Risks of not having an accessible website
Many businesses have yet to make their websites compliant with the ADA as per the WCAG guidelines, which can lead to several potential risks and costly litigation.
- Damage to brand reputation
- Loss of potential clients
- Rebuilding your website with accessibility guidelines
- Heavy attorney fees and legal fines
- Defending a lawsuit in in Federal or State courts
If a website is not accessible, business owners could face significant penalties, particularly in California due to the state’s specific regulations known as the Unruh Civil Rights Act. This law applies even if the business is not physically located in California. Recent decisions by the California courts have greatly increased the number of lawsuits against small businesses with physical locations and websites, like restaurants, shops, therapists, real estate agencies, and almost every category of brick-and-mortar business and service providers.
In addition, there is also the potential for negative publicity, as news of a non-compliant website can quickly spread online. This can damage a business’s reputation and make it difficult to attract new customers. Lastly, a website that doesn’t follow the rules could make it so that some people can’t use the company’s products or services.
You can avoid these potential risks by ensuring that your website is designed and coded for accessibility at all times.
How can I check my website for ADA accessibility errors?
There are plenty of free tools, such as the WAVE Accessibility Evaluation Tool by Web Aim and Google Chrome’s Lighthouse tool.
The errors you will see using automated tests cover only 30% to 40% of the accessibility barriers. Other errors, such as tab navigation, pop-ups, and captioning, require an in-depth audit and manual review. EcomBack provides a free audit to businesses.
As a business owner or website operator, these errors must be addressed immediately. They could be critical for your company and could be used against you as a basis for the lawsuit.
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Benefits of accessible websites and digital content
As of the year 2022 available data, there have been A total of 4334 ADA cases filed with 3525 cases filed in the US Federal courts and 809 cases filed in the California State courts.
Federal Courts ADA Website Cases:
For Federal ADA website lawsuits New York had the highest number of cases filed with 2533 cases, followed by Florida with 507 cases, California with 212 cases, Pennsylvania with 195 cases, and 78 cases filed in other states.
ADA Demand Letters:
It’s important to note that the numbers above do not include the private demand letters sent by plaintiff firms to businesses, which alone would be in thousands.
Demand letters are often sent out to companies before lawsuits are filed, supposedly giving them the opportunity to remediate any accessibility issues on their websites.
In many cases, businesses may choose to “settle” before court action after receiving a demand letter to avoid the costs and negative publicity associated with a lawsuit. This is a common practice used by certain plaintiff firms and because there is no public data available or reporting requirements, it is almost impossible to gauge how many there are.
Website lawsuits are on the rise. Here’s a listing of lawsuit numbers: In 2016, 132 lawsuits were filed, followed by 814 lawsuits in 2017, 2314 lawsuits in 2018, 2890 lawsuits in 2019, 3503 lawsuits in 2020, 4055 lawsuits in 2021, and 4334 lawsuits in 2022. Data Source: Ecomback.com
ADA lawsuits related to website non-compliance are on the rise.
Over 4000 ADA Lawsuits
were filed in 2022 against inaccessible websites. That’s more than ten a day!
A handful of law firms are serial lawsuit filers, suing hundreds of companies each month with cut-and-paste claims. That’s their “cost of litigation settlement” business model.
If you get sued
- You will have to fix your website anyway
- Pay your attorney’s fees
- Defend your case – if you lose, you owe their attorney’s fees plus fines
- Or make a settlement if advisable – five to six figures
- Follow the ongoing process for compliance
- Periodic audits as per judgment or settlement
- Avoid copy-cat lawsuits
ADA lawsuits are a painful experience that distracts you from your business. Talk to anyone who has been sued out of the blue, and you will realize how painful and frustrating it can be when you get the court notice.
Simply put, if your website is not fully compliant with the guidelines of the ADA, the DOJ, and WCAG, you need to fix it as of yesterday. Prevention is better than cure, and certainly less costly than lawyers and courts!
The wrong way to make a website accessible
Websites “that use AudioEye, accessiBe and UserWay are facing legal action. Last year, more than 400 companies with an accessibility widget or overlay on their website were sued..”
Many well-meaning website owners want the quickest and cheapest way to fix their website for accessibility. They search “how to make a website accessible and ADA compliant” and see ads for AI-assisted tools. These ads make bold promises to make websites ADA and WCAG compliant by installing one line of code (the little wheelchair icons you see on the bottom of many websites). Sounds too good to be true, right?
The reality is that these widgets do not fix the critical and structural issues on their own. What they do is create a skin or overlay that gives the impression of a compliant website by adding accessibility functionality that is already in-built on most operating systems. Adding an overlay to a website is like applying a band-aid without treating the infected wound.
Also, disability rights groups, people with disabilities, and experts on web accessibility do not recommend widgets and overlays. Read The New York Times article: “For Blind Internet Users, the Fix Can Be Worse Than the Flaws”
The right way to make a website accessible
EcomBack has a dedicated team of trained experts who can fix your website’s accessibility barriers according to WCAG 2.0 and 2.1 guidelines, as applicable. We have an in-house team of expert auditors, developers, designers, and usability testers. We monitor the latest developments in the accessibility space and work with ADA attorneys and defense lawyers to stay updated on legal requirements and adapt to any new developments since there always seem to be new demands and challenges.
We will not only fix your website but also train you and your team on maintaining its compliance for a flat one-time fee. This will help you keep an eye on your website’s compliance, allowing you to identify and fix the errors before it’s too late.
- We Audit
- We Fix
- We Certify
- We Monitor
- We Train
Why choose EcomBack for your ADA website compliance?
Accessibility is achieved by using the proper code and the right way to display your content.
We are a dedicated group of auditors, developers, content experts, usability testers, and people with disabilities who work together to fix your website’s accessibility problems.
We help you achieve WCAG compliance, increase brand awareness, reduce the risk of ADA lawsuits, and open your business to a wider audience.
We help you make your website ADA-compliant quickly and smoothly so that you can focus more on growing your business.
We have the required skills and experience to save you weeks of your time coding and tons of money otherwise spent on training to make your website accessible.
We give you and your team the required training on how to maintain your website’s accessibility and audit your website on your own as you make updates.
Blindsighted - a documentary on web accessibility supported by EcomBack
When an unexpected lawsuit hit our company’s founder, it showed him a shocking truth: many e-commerce websites, including his own, weren’t fully accessible.
This was the beginning of a journey to tell an exploratory story about how access to digital accessibility is still such a challenge for those of us with disabilities and a great risk for unaware businesses, who are easy targets for exploitation by plaintiff lawyers.
Our research team has gathered research going back years to study the devastating impact of murky laws, a lack of regulations, conflicting court rulings, the cost of litigation, and confidentiality agreements on the real cause of accessibility.
If you have a story you would like to share about accessibility or the challenges you have faced, please contact us.
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