The Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) was enacted to make American society more accessible for people with disabilities. While many business owners may be familiar with physical accessibility improvements such as wheelchair ramps and Braille signs, fewer are aware that the U.S. Department of Justice (“DOJ”), class action plaintiffs’ attorneys and some federal courts alike have reinterpreted ADA accessibility regulations to apply to website operators.

Have you been sued for website ADA accessibility-related claims?

Do Websites Need to Be ADA Compliant?

Pursuant to Title III of the ADA, business owners are required to provide persons with disabilities with equal access to certain public accommodations. While the ADA does not expressly mention website accessibility, the DOJ has previously applied ADA accessibility regulations to websites and has taken ADA enforcement action against website owners.

Similarly, an increasing number of federal courts are interpreting how ADA accessibility requirements apply to websites. Some have applied ADA Title III only to companies with brick-and-mortar locations, while others have applied the ADA more broadly to cover e-commerce companies and other online-only businesses.

Web Content Accessibility Guidelines

The World Wide Web Consortium (“W3C”), an international organization for Internet standards, publishes website accessibility standards known as the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (“WCAG”). In 2008, W3C published WCAG 2.0 (the current version).

The DOJ has sometimes added WCAG 2.0 compliance language to ADA accessibility settlement agreements with website operators, leading many to suggest that the DOJ may eventually adopt ADA rules that expressly incorporate WCAG 2.0 website accessibility standards.

ADA Accessibility Lawsuits on the Rise

In recent years, an increasing number of class action plaintiffs’ attorneys have sued, and threatened to sue, website operators who do not meet WCAG 2.0 standards. By way of example, we recently reported on the ongoing putative class action ADA accessibility lawsuit filed against the fast casual restaurant chain Five Guys Enterprises LLC, where software limitations on the fiveguys.com website allegedly prevented a blind user from using a screen reader to add pickles, ketchup and onions to her hamburger order. In addition, this February, a blind man filed a putative class action lawsuit against Blick Art Materials, LLC when he was allegedly prevented from purchasing art supplies on the dickblick.com website.

With the prospect of significant regulatory and legal liability on the rise, it is essential that website operators consult with experienced Internet counsel before responding to ADA accessibility-related legal threats.