Who Enforces ADA Web Compliance

Who Enforces ADA Web Compliance

ADA web compliance is not optional. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a law that prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities. The ADA covers many areas of life, including the internet. However, not all websites are ADA web compliant, and enforcing those laws can be difficult. But who enforces ADA web compliance, and what does this mean for businesses and organizations?

Below, we’ll take a closer look at enforcing ADA web compliance — and provide tips for making sure your online content is fully compliant.

What is ADA Web Compliance?

ADA web compliance refers to the adherence of websites to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a law enacted in 1990 to protect the rights of people with disabilities and requires that places of public accommodation provide equal access. In recent years, this has been extended to websites and digital content.

People with disabilities can use websites and applications when properly designed and coded. However, many have barriers that make it difficult or impossible for some people to use.

Some common ways to ensure ADA web compliance include:

  • Including alternative text descriptions for images and multimedia content
  • Incorporating captioning or transcripts for audio and video content
  • Implementing a skip navigation link for keyboard navigation

Enforcing ADA Web Compliance

The Department of Justice (DOJ) is the federal agency enforcing the ADA. In 2010, the DOJ issued new regulations that established specific requirements for ADA web compliance. These regulations would provide specific technical standards for ADA web compliance.

However, in 2017 the DOJ put the final regulations on hold. This has created uncertainty and led to confusion among businesses and website owners about what is required to achieve ADA compliance. As a result, the DOJ has referred to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) as the standard for ADA web compliance. WCAG was developed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) to set internationally shared guidelines for web content accessibility. The DOJ has even joined lawsuits against businesses and organizations that have failed to meet the WCAG standards.

The Department of Justice Enforcing ADA Web Compliance

In recent years, the number of ADA web compliance lawsuits has skyrocketed. These lawsuits are filed under Title II, which applies to government websites, and Title III, which applies to private businesses and other places of public accommodation.

The DOJ has repeatedly reiterated that these laws also apply to websites. These investigations can lead to stiff penalties. For example, businesses that violate Title III of the ADA may face a maximum civil penalty of $75,000 for a first violation. Subsequent violations have a maximum fine of $150,000.

H&R Block ADA Lawsuit

In one such case, the DOJ filed a lawsuit against H&R Block, a tax preparation company, for failing to make their website ADA web compliant. As a result, H&R Block had to make its website accessible and pay $100,000 in damages to the individuals affected by their non-compliance. This case serves as a warning to website owners that the DOJ is serious about enforcing ADA web accessibility.

However, the DOJ usually only investigates ADA violation if it affects a large number of consumers, as a result, most cases are initiated through private litigation.

Who Can File a Web Accessibility Lawsuit?

Anyone with a disability who has been denied access to a website or digital platform due to inaccessibility can file a lawsuit against the business or organization that owns or operates the site. However, the law does not contain a list of qualifying disabilities.

To meet the ADA’s definition of disability, the plaintiff must meet one of the following descriptions:

  • Mental or physical impairment limiting one or more major life activities.
  • History or record of such an impairment
  • Can be perceived by others as having an impairment.

If the lawsuit is successful, the plaintiff may recover legal expenses. Plaintiffs may also obtain federal court orders to stop ADA violations.

How Common Are ADA Lawsuits?

The number of ADA digital accessibility lawsuits has skyrocketed. In 2022, there were more than 4,000 web accessibility lawsuits filed in the United States under the Unruh Act.

Many of these lawsuits are filed by a small number of plaintiffs and law firms. For example, the top 10 plaintiff law firms account for 75% of all federally filed cases. However, most ADA compliance cases are settled before going to trial. As a result, businesses and organizations that prioritize web accessibility and take proactive steps to improve accessibility are much less likely to face legal action.

Make Sure Your Website is ADA Web Compliant

By conforming with the WCAG guidelines, businesses can limit their legal risk. However, it’s essential to understand that web accessibility has profound benefits apart from legal compliance.

Modern consumers value diversity, equity, and inclusion. As a result, accessible websites help to promote brand loyalty and customer retention. In addition, accessibility can help search engines crawl and index your site. This can help improve your search engine position and deliver a better experience for everyone.

You can embrace web accessibility by taking a few simple steps:

  • Conduct an audit. Use a combination of manual and automated tests to find and remediate barriers.
  • Train your team about the importance of ADA web compliance. Your team should be aware of basic WCAG guidelines to avoid unintentionally adding  barriers with content updates to your website.
  • Create a plan for maintaining ADA web compliance. Accessibility is an ongoing process. Work with an accessibility partner to adopt (and maintain) a best-practice approach.

Team up with 216digital for ADA Web Compliance

Whether you want to protect against a frivolous ADA accessibility lawsuit or become WCAG 2.1 AA compliant, we have you covered. Through years of analyzing ADA lawsuits, we have uncovered how law firms target websites for frivolous ADA lawsuits and how to protect businesses against them. Our team of accessibility experts can also develop strategies to integrate WCAG 2.1 compliance into your development roadmap on your terms. So don’t wait any longer—find out where you stand by scheduling a complementary ADA Strategy Briefing today.