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.