Have you determined whether your business website needs to be accessible to individuals with disabilities? If not, your business may be targeted with a claim that the website violates federal or state law. Web accessibility is the practice of designing and coding websites so that people with disabilities can use them. For example, a website can be made accessible to people who are blind or visually impaired by coding the website so that it is compatible with screen reader programs, which provide an audio readout of the site or convert it to braille.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) is a broad anti-discrimination law that requires places of “public accommodation” remove barriers to access for people with disabilities. Although the law itself does not specifically identify its application to the Internet or to mobile applications, courts have found that where a business with a brick-and-mortar location must comply with the ADA, that business’ website must also comply with the ADA by being accessible to those with disabilities.
Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act also requires Federal agencies make their electronic and information technology accessible to people with disabilities. Although Section 508 does not apply to the private industry, several states have created their own accessibility laws based on Section 508, and other states have enacted their own state laws banning discrimination. Moreover, many non-federal websites are still required to be accessible under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, which requires organizations receiving federal funding or assistance have accessible websites.
Businesses subject to accessibility laws must have websites that are optimized to work in conjunction with assistive technologies, so that the sites are accessible to disabled individuals.
On October 7, 2019, the United States Supreme Court rejected the appeal of a Ninth Circuit ruling that the ADA applies to website and mobile applications. In Robles v Domino’s Pizza LLC, the Ninth Circuit ruled that websites subject to the ADA must provide full and equal access to the disabled. This ruling will no doubt encourage plaintiffs (and their attorneys) to continue bringing lawsuits against businesses whose websites are inaccessible to those with disabilities.
Although the Department of Justice has said that it would create clear ADA compliance standards, it has not done so. As a result, there are no uniform regulations regarding what accommodations are compliant. Although there are no automatic solutions to website accessibility, the standard of accessibility is flexible, and so each business can determine how it would like to make its website compliant. Some courts have directed businesses to comply with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. Although the Department of Justice has declined to adopt those Guidelines as a legal standard, reference to these standards is a good place to start.
In order to reduce your risk of liability, and to prepare yourself to respond to website accessibility claims, speak with Jennifer Puplava (moc.sreyemakim@avalpupj or 616-632-8050) or your legal counsel about how best to evaluate your website for compliance.