What You Need to Know About ADA Web Accessibility Lawsuits

What You Need to Know About ADA Web Accessibility Lawsuits

In today’s digital age, having an accessible website is more important than ever. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires businesses to provide equal access to goods and services, including online content. Failure to comply with these regulations can impact your brand and result in costly lawsuits.

Whether you’re just at the beginning of the research process and trying to determine your exposure to an ADA lawsuit, responding to a recently received demand letter, or actively defending yourself against an ADA web accessibility lawsuit, you will need to know what you’re up against. In this post, we’ll explore what ADA compliance means, examine some high-profile lawsuits, and provide tips on protecting your website from ADA compliance lawsuits.

What is ADA Compliance?

When talking about ADA website compliance lawsuits, it’s important to understand that the ADA isn’t just any kind of law. It’s a civil rights law to ensure fairness and equality for all Americans. By prohibiting discrimination based on disability across five distinct parts of modern American life:

  • Employment
  • Government
  • Places of public accommodation
  • Telephones
  • Other U.S. laws and regulations

The ADA is a “strict liability” law because it violates a person’s civil rights, inflicting inherent harm. Strict liability means that damage is possible without fault, and there is no defense against violations. In other words, you can’t say you didn’t know which requirements to follow or did not intend to cause any harm.

Losing an ADA accessibility lawsuit can be costly and result in an order to comply with the law and make your website compliant. 

How Does ADA Compliance Relate to Websites?

Website accessibility enables individuals with disabilities to access and navigate websites using assistive technologies, such as screen readers or keyboard-only navigation. However, websites with barriers can limit the ability to access information and services online.

While the ADA does not explicitly mention digital content, the courts have interpreted the law to also apply to websites — specifically, Title III. Title III prohibits discrimination in places of public accommodation, including businesses and organizations that are open to the public. In 2010, the Department of Justice (DOJ) issued that websites are considered public places subject to the ADA’s requirements.

In recent years, a number of lawsuits have been filed against businesses and organizations failing to make their websites accessible. Unfortunately, these lawsuits can result in high financial costs, negative publicity, and reputational damage.

Examples of ADA Web Accessibility Lawsuits

ADA website compliance lawsuits can drag on for years, draining your time and resources. To give you an idea of what can happen, we will look at three notable ADA website accessibility lawsuits.

ADA Website Lawsuit #1: Netflix

In 2012, the National Association of the Deaf (NAD) filed a lawsuit against Netflix for denying equal access to deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals in the United States. The underlying lawsuit claimed that Netflix violated the Title III of the ADA by failing to provide closed captioning for “Watch Instantly” content streamed on its website.

The consent decree compelled Netflix to provide closed captioning to their online content within two years, along with all future content. In addition, Netflix had to pay $755,000 in legal costs and $40,000 to the National Association of the Deaf for monitoring.

ADA Website Lawsuit #2: H&R Block

Just one year later, in 2013, the DOJ joined the National Federation of the Blind, Mika Pyyhkala, and Lindsay Yazzolino in a suit against tax services firm H&R Block.

The suit required H&R Block to conform to WCAG 2.0 level-AA standards for their website and mobile app. The other terms of the agreement were:

  • Provisions for designating a full-time website accessibility coordinator.
  • Providing annual accessibility training to employees.
  • Retaining an independent consultant.

H&R Block was also required to pay $22,500 to both Pyyhkala and Yazzolino, as well as a $55,000 civil penalty.

ADA Website Lawsuit #3: Domino’s Pizza

In 2016, Guillermo Robles claimed that Domino’s Pizza violated Title III of the ADA because their website and mobile app were not accessible to screen readers. A district court dismissed the initial case, but Robles appealed to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which came to a much different conclusion. The court opined the ADA does apply to websites and that Domino’s “had received fair notice” that its digital content must conform to the ADA.

In October 2019, the U.S. Supreme Court denied Domino’s petition to overrule the Ninth Circuit Court’s opinion. In fact, in June 2021, California federal court found that Domino’s had violated both Title III of the ADA and California’s Unruh Act, showing they still did not have an accessible website or mobile app for ordering. In the settlement summary, Robles was entitled to a mere $4,000 in statutory damages and Domino’s was required to bring its website into compliance with WCAG 2.0 guidelines. 

How to Protect Your Site Against ADA Website Compliance Lawsuits

To limit your legal risk, you should endeavor to adhere to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 AA. WCAG is a set of internationally shared guidelines necessary for improving web accessibility. These guidelines are put together by the W3C (World Wide Web Consortium), athe defacto source for ensuring your website is accessible to all users.

To protect your website from ADA website compliance lawsuits, here are a few ideas of what the criteria require:

  • Add alternative text descriptions for all non-text content (images, form fields, video, audio, etc.)
  • Do not rely on only color as a visual means of conveying information, indicating an action, or prompting a response.
  • Make sure everything on the site can interact through a keyboard interface.
  • Navigational elements on the website are consistent and predictable across each page.

Team up with 216digital for ADA Web Compliance

ADA website compliance is no longer optional; it’s a legal requirement. If you need clarification on whether your site complies with the ADA’s WCAG 2.1 level-AA criteria, reach out to 216digital for a complementary ADA Strategy Briefing. We can help determine if your website is at risk of a lawsuit and offer fast and effective ADA compliance solutions that ensure your site is accessible to everyone and reduce your risk of litigation — letting you focus on what you do best.