Most people think of wheelchair ramps or handicapped parking spaces when they think of the Americans With Disabilities Act. But new laws are broadening the scope of accessibility to include websites. Your website could look good and be functional with lots of great information. But if a disabled person can’t use it you could receive a letter from lawyers threatening to sue under the ADA.

Federal ADA laws already require that websites related to federal, state, or local governments or those that receive federal funding must be digitally compliant for people with disabilities. The Americans With Disabilities act requires business and stores that are “places of public accommodation” to be physically accessible for people with disabilities through such modifications as wheelchair ramps or handicapped parking spaces. At issue is the definition of a website as “a place of public accommodation.”

The law can interpret private businesses as “places of public accommodation” simply by virtue of the fact that they are accessible to anyone with an internet connection. Courts have interpreted this language to mean that the ADA law applies to all commercial websites. Some courts have interpreted this language to mean that a website must be accessible if it has a connection to a physical location, such as the online arm of a brick-and-mortar retail store.

There’s no consensus on what the law actually means right now. But every indication is that they are going to interpret the ADA to apply to commercial websites. This has online business owners worried. The example of the website Scribd and its “NetFlix for books” program wasn’t accessible to screen readers, which meant that the service was inaccessible to blind readers, is a warning sign for business owners.

Scribd’s argument was that Scribd isn’t a physical place and it’s therefore not regulated by the ADA. the judge refused Scribd’s attempt to have the lawsuit dismissed, and they ended up settling. Scribd was required to modify its titles (Section 4) to be accessible by screen readers. They were also required to modify and maintain its website as accessible (section 5).

We’re urging business owners to take steps to make their website accessible. We’re urging people to take steps no matter what type of business they have, but especially one that is accessible to anyone over the internet, as most ecommerce and service-based websites are. This isn’t about a fear of a lawsuit, although that is what’s on people’s minds. It’s about ensuring that your site meets the legal requirements of accessibility.

A plugin like ADA Plugin is a business’s first step to protecting themselves. A lawsuit that forces you to come into compliance won’t have as much “teeth” if you’re already taking steps to make your website accessible. The ADA Plugin runs on a site’s back-end to detect and warn your of compliance issues. It takes a look at each element on your site and compares it to WCAG 2.1.

If your site has issues, a warning pops up when the scan is run, so that you can see what the issue is, what guidelines it is referring to, and suggestions on how to fix it. IF you resolve the issue, the scan remembers and won’t show that warning next time. The plugin is a great way to ensure that your site is moving toward compliance and keep it compliant once you get there.

Have you heard the hit new song? It’s called “The Website Accessibility Shakedown.” Just kidding! If you do hear this latest hit, you will wish you hadn’t. Businesses across the nation are being targeted by predatory lawsuits if their websites are not digitally compliant with Americans with Disabilities Act accessibility standards.

Since the beginning of 2015, more than 244 federal lawsuits have been filed throughout the country against companies of all sizes, including banks, credit unions and large and small retailers. In 2017, plaintiffs filed at least 814 federal lawsuits about websites they alleged were inaccessible. The first trial of 2017 centered on the website of grocer Winn-Dixie. This company paid $250,000 to remediate their website, and the judge ruled that the dollar figure was not “an undue burden.”

Celebrity Kylie Jenner was sued in December 2017 because her cosmetics website was inaccessible to blind people. The plaintiff, a woman named Antoinette Suchenko, says she is not looking for money–just that the website be accessible to screen readers. Most business are not that lucky. People definitely are out for money from businesses whenever they can get it.

In the years when ADA accessibility affected only a physical location, serial “drive-by” litigation because such a problem that the state of California passed laws against it. If a business didn’t have a marked handicapped parking space or an appropriate wheelchair ramp, “drive-by” plaintiffs would file a suit. The business would fix the issue, which often was an affordable, quick remedy such as putting up a handicapped parking sign, but the plaintiff would still want thousands of dollars to settle. Now that ADA accessibility has reached the digital age, this is happening to websites that don’t have alternate text on images, or content that can’t be read by screen readers, just to give a couple of basic examples.

Many businesses settle these predatory claims without a suit being filed. For those that do not result in settlement, the businesses have to go to court. At that point, most businesses do want to quickly settle as the cost of updating their website AND proceeding with a lawsuit is too much to bear. Settling could be thousands, or, depending on the size of your business, millions of dollars.

The laws regarding the accessibility of financial institutions such as banks and credit unions is changing, but the laws are clear on websites in general. And, it is so easy for plaintiffs to find ADA violations online because most sites are simply not accessible at this point.

Until you can ensure that your site is completely compliant, it is important that you develop a plan to make your website ADA compliant. Your plan should include a timeline for compliance in addition to reviewing the new content that is added to the site on an ongoing basis until all of your content achieves compliance.

“Having an ADA website compliance plan in place provides your business with some leverage showing that you’re taking steps to achieve compliance in case you receive an ADA demand letter or are sued,” explains accessibility consultant and web developer Josh Garnick.

Web accessibility fixes can be time-consuming to implement, so if you’re sued by one plaintiff without your website actually being fixed, you’re open to other lawsuits also.

“First, companies should run an accessibility scan of their webpages,” says Garnick. “This can provide an overview of potential issues that need to be resolved. Ideally, the company will work on bringing their older content up to standard and all new content will be run through the scanner to ensure that all new content that is added is also compliant.”

A plugin called ADA Plugin does this for you. ADA Plugin works behind the scenes on WordPress sites to scan your site and create a checklist of items that need attention. The scan provides details about what needs to be fixed and why, along with a snippet of the ADA guidelines that the issue refers to. You can fix these yourself, but these issues are best handled by your in-house developers or IT team if you have one.

Some online tools can scan your site and give your website a “pass/fail” grade, but the ADA Plugin gathers the latest guidelines that the government requires and tells you how to get them implemented on your site.

As of now, websites should follow WCAG 2.0 guidelines.(4) The group in charge of these guidelines has promised WCAG 2.1 in summer of 2018. These ever-changing guidelines makes it all the more important to select a tool like the ADA Plugin that automatically updates. When the developers of the plugin know about major changes like WCAG 2.1 on the horizon, they update the plugin, and your purchase of the plugin means that the next time you run a scan on your site, the plugin will know what needs to be fixed. You will never need to keep up with accessibility guideline changes, unless you want to.

In 2016, more than 250 lawsuits were filed against companies that had websites that were not accessible to people with vision or hearing issues. Many of these lawsuits were filed against medical and retail companies as well as banks.

Credit unions are now looking at what they need to do to be ADA compliant. The Americans with Disability Act (ADA) requires businesses to make accommodations so that people with disabilities have the same access to the same services that are available and accessible to the general public. Typically what happens is that a business will receive a “demand letter,” which then gives them the opportunity to negotiate a settlement as well as demands that they improve the level of services they are offering to people with disabilities.

These demand letters are costly to respond to. It is far better to seek digital compliance for credit unions and avoid a demand letter in the first place. Because the website standards specifically for credit unions have not yet been set, most new websites are not being built to ADA standards.

It is possible though, if you choose to work with a vendor that is knowledgeable about the subject, to retrofit a credit union website for digital compliance. Choices such as spacing, font size and color contrast can be retrofitted to allow for digital compliance for credit unions.

A tool such a the ADA Plugin helps compliance managers for credit unions quickly and easily tell what they need to improve to meet the standards set forth for website accessibility through the Rehabilitation Act.

Working to bring the facets of digital compliance for credit unions to life now makes sense…as our populations age, they will be dealing with arthritis, lower levels of vision and hearing, reduced mobility and medical conditions that make it harder to use a computer. Making a website easy to use for this population ensures that you can more easily meet digital compliance.