Many business owners are familiar with Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) requirements for physical structures, such as including wheelchair-accessible routes of travel in restaurants. However, it is less commonly known that the U.S. Department of Justice (“DOJ”) and class action plaintiffs’ attorneys have interpreted the ADA to apply to website accessibility as well.
What should you do if you’ve been sued for website accessibility-related claims?
Does the ADA Apply to Website Accessibility?
Title III of the ADA requires public accommodations to provide equal access for persons with disabilities. Although the ADA does not specifically address website accessibility, the DOJ previously interpreted the ADA and its implementing regulations to apply to website operators, has conducted ADA investigations of website owners and even reached settlement agreements concerning ADA website compliance practices.
Further, numerous federal courts have considered whether Title III of the ADA applies to websites. While some courts have applied the ADA only to websites that have a physical connection to goods or services available at a physical store or location, others have interpreted the ADA more broadly to apply to online-only businesses.
What is WCAG 2.0?
The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (“WCAG”) are website accessibility standards published by the World Wide Web Consortium (“W3C”), the primary international Internet standards organization. The current version, WCAG 2.0, was published in 2008. W3C also publishes and periodically updates a list of “techniques” for meeting WCAG 2.0 standards.
The DOJ has incorporated general WCAG 2.0 compliance requirements into its ADA-related settlement agreements with website operators, leading many to suggest that the DOJ may eventually formally adopt WCAG 2.0 website accessibility standards for ADA compliance purposes.
Can I Be Sued for Website Accessibility-Related Claims?
Despite the fact that the DOJ recently labeled its repeatedly delayed ADA website accessibility rulemaking as “inactive,” professional class action plaintiffs’ attorneys are filing (and threatening to file) an increasing number of class action lawsuits against the operators of websites that fail to meet WCAG 2.0 standards. With the prospect of significant regulatory and legal liability at stake, it is more important than ever to consult with experienced Internet counsel before responding to website accessibility-related legal threats.