Is Your Website ADA Compliant?

The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination against people with physical and mental disabilities in places of public accommodation such as restaurants, movie theaters, stores, schools, offices, recreation facilities, etc.  Since Congress passed the ADA in 1990, lawyers have used the ADA as a tool to compel businesses to remove physical barriers in stores, restaurants, offices, or other places of public accommodation that limited accessibility for people with disabilities.  Numerous lawsuits have been filed to force a business to widen doorways, add ramps, lower countertops, and enlarge dressing rooms in order to accommodate consumers with physical disabilities.

It is only recently that people have begun to file legal actions against companies with websites that are not equipped for use by the visually impaired.  In 2010, the Department of Justice (DOJ), the agency responsible to enforce the ADA, issued an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking regarding the Internet and people with disabilities.  The DOJ recognized the public’s ever-increasing reliance on and use of the Internet as an online forum to engage with companies and organizations.

Although the DOJ stated it intends to include a person’s access to websites in the DOJ’s interpretation of the ADA, the DOJ has yet to release specific regulations to outline the requirements of a website.  However, many plaintiffs have successfully cajoled businesses into making their websites accessible for the visually impaired.  Rather than face a costly and lengthy trial that is not likely to end in favor of the company, the company will choose to spend the time and money to make their website user-friendly for the visually impaired.  Additionally, since the ADA provides that defendants may be liable for a plaintiff’s legal bill, businesses will negotiate a settlement with plaintiffs to cover legal fees to ensure the case is dropped.

To avoid the headache of facing a lawsuit under the ADA, businesses should try to make their websites accessible to the visually impaired.  Costs to fix an existing website may vary depending on a website’s content.  However, a simple solution may be to install an audio component to the website that permits the business to add narration and keyboard navigation to help accommodate visual disabilities.  At the very least, businesses should include a phone number for website visitors to call to speak with a live person regarding the website.  These solutions may not fully shield your business from a potential threat of litigation under the ADA, but they can certainly work in your favor to show your website has taken steps to accommodate the visually impaired.



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