DOJ Issues Updated Guidance on ADA Website Accessibility

DOJ Issues Updated Guidance on ADA Website Accessibility

Many business owners are familiar with Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) in the context of making reasonable accommodations for their disabled employees.  However, any private business that is open to the public is also potentially subject to Title III of the ADA, which protects individuals with disabilities from discrimination in accessing places of “public accommodation.” One commonly litigated issue under Title III is whether and to what extent a covered business must make its website accessible to people with disabilities.

This accessibility requirement has resulted in a significant wave of lawsuits filed against businesses. These lawsuits are often pursued by “serial plaintiffs” that serve as class representatives in other lawsuits. In response to this trend, the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) recently provided updated guidance for business owners.

Website Accessibility Concerns

There are several ways in which a website could create a challenge for someone with a disability, such as:

  • Color Contrast – Customers with limited vision or color blindness often require high-contrast to read text.
  • Text alternatives for images – Customers who are blind need to understand the content of a picture.
  • No captions – Customers with hearing disabilities need captions to understand videos.
  • Mouse-only navigation – Customers who cannot use a mouse need to be able to access web content with a keyboard.

Key Takeaways for Businesses

The DOJ’s guidance provides a high-level review of the issues facing businesses and does not address many of the nuances being litigated in courts right now.  However, there are a few notable key takeaways:

  • All services offered by a covered business (even if it is not offered online) are subject to Title III compliance.
  • The DOJ emphasized that businesses have several options to become Title III-compliant and there is no one-size-fits-all solution that businesses must follow.
  • The DOJ provided examples of what businesses can do right now:
    • Ensure there is adequate color contrast for all text on your website.
    • Add captions to your videos.
    • Ensure your website can take advantage of a browser’s zoom capabilities.
    • Provide a way for a customer to notify you about accessibility problems.
  • Businesses should use automated accessibility checkers to review potential accessibility issues with a website.

What’s the Risk?

While plaintiffs are not entitled to receive damages for these lawsuits, there are some hard costs that a business may face if it is sued for a Title III violation:

  • Their own attorneys’ fees
  • The Plaintiffs’ attorneys’ fees
  • Expensive compliance obligations mandated by a court

The more a business can get ahead of these claims, the better it can position itself to avoid a Title III lawsuit. If you have questions about whether your business or its website is ADA-compliant, please contact Walker R. Lawrence at (312) 368-0100.