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ADA Compliant Website Law: ADA Laws for Websites & Lawsuits

September 28, 2020
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Scott
ADA compliant QR code menu

ADA web compliance is more important right now than ever. For two reasons.

First, the CDC estimates that about 61 million people in the U.S. live with a disability. And that they comprise a group with around $645 billion in disposable annual income. They’re too big a market segment to ignore. Having an inaccessible website means you immediately lose hundreds, thousands, or millions of potential customers.

And because of the first, the second: the amount of web accessibility lawsuits is increasing and won’t stop. It’s no longer acceptable to have inaccessible web pages. Not while society has the know-how and businesses have the means to solve a problem that affects millions upon millions of people.

It’s being proven in court every day that ADA legal action is a serious, ongoing threat to your business because:

  • The ADA law extends to websites.
  • ADA lawsuits are growing exponentially, and 1-in-5 defendants are sued more than once.
  • ADA lawsuits disproportionality target restaurants and hospitality businesses.
  • Your liability is massive and remediation can be prohibitively expensive.

To clarify the risk you’re exposed to, we gathered some ADA compliant website law information. Below you’ll find a summary of the current ADA website law landscape. You’ll also find some notable ADA website law examples—and how to comply with ADA website law so you don’t become one of them.

What Is ADA Website Law?

The ADA doesn’t spell out the technical requirements for web accessibility or PDF accessibility. It simply mandates that websites make every effort they reasonably can to make their web pages and online assets (like website and PDF restaurant menus) accessible to people with disabilities.

In federal courts, ADA legal actions routinely cite the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). That’s a list of web accessibility recommendations from the W3C, an international web consortium.

So we can confidently say that ADA website law is aligned with WCAG guidelines. Specifically WCAG 2.1 AA guidelines.

ADA Website Law: Current Landscape

2017’s Gil v. Winn Dixie Stores Inc. was the first ADA web accessibility claim to go to trial. We cover that case in more depth below. But that same year’s Andrews v. Blick Art Materials set a wide range of precedents that inform today’s ADA website law landscape.

Andrews v. Blick Art Materials

2017’s Andrews v. Blick Art Materials was a putative class action complaint filed by a visually impaired person who was unable to interact with Blick’s website using a screen reader. Judge Jack Weinstein found in favor of the plaintiff, and the legal action set four enduring precedents for today’s current ADA website law landscape. They are:

Inaction Is Dangerous

First, the decision set the bar for the level of effort and action required of businesses with an online presence. Many anti-discriminatory statutes prohibit action. But the ADA, in this case, was found to prohibit inaction.

According to Judge Weinstein, the ADA “requires individuals and companies, in some instances, to take affirmative steps to eliminate barriers that inhibit the disabled; in a sense it prohibits inaction.”

The legal responsibility is on businesses to be proactive about digital accessibility. You cannot sit around and fly under the radar.

Websites Are Places of Public Accommodation

Second, the judge, in not dismissing the case and allowing it to proceed to discovery, found that websites fall under “places of public accommodation” and are covered by the ADA.

There Is No Legal Ambiguity In the ADA

Third, the ADA doesn’t specifically mention web pages, and many web accessibility critics take that absence as ambiguity. But Judge Weinstein interpreted the lack of specific, technical language in the ADA as a demonstration of breadth. The precedent he set is that the ADA should apply to the technological reality of today. Especially considering the level to which society relies on the internet.

The WCAG 2.1 AA Is a Good Standard

And finally, the court also found that the WCAG 2.0 (now updated slightly to 2.1) AA standard was the appropriate standard for Blick to achieve ADA compliance. Most website accessibility statements that reference any specific guidelines reference the WCAG 2.0 or 2.1.

ADA Website Law Today

Andrews v. Blick Art Supplies finding was a watershed moment in ADA website law. According to law firm Seyfarth Shaw, the amount of ADA website accessibility lawsuits grew over 170% from 2017 to 2019. And the Blick suit had a lot to do with that. The case defined some of the previous ADA digital gray areas. The law is now typically applied assuming that: 

  • Your website is considered a place of public accommodation. It falls under the authority of the ADA even though the ADA doesn’t specifically mention websites.
  • Businesses are legally compelled to be proactive about ADA web accessibility. You can’t sit on your hands and claim the law passed you by. It’s up to you to keep up with ADA laws for websites.
  • The best way to keep up ADA laws for websites is by following the WCAG 2.1 AA guidelines. More than 75% of all federal claims now reference the WCAG 2.1 AA guidelines.

Mobile Apps, Widgets, and Overlays

Mobile Apps

Historically, websites have been the focus of ADA web accessibility lawsuits. But today, about 20% of all federal ADA digital claims are about apps. You can’t stand on the ADA compliance of your website as your good-faith effort. Mobile apps are fair game, too.

Widgets and Overlays

A popular solution to ADA compliance was overlaying accessible widgets or features on top of an inaccessible website. This means offering superficial accessibility improvements without changing the actual code of the web page. According to recent research, over 100 companies were hit with ADA legal action after investing heavily into widgets and overlays.

The moral of the story here: if you’re going to remediate your website to follow ADA compliant website law (or Section 508), don’t take shortcuts. 

Other ADA Website Law Takeaways

Recent research from UseableNet, provides a handful of revealing figures:

  • Of the 2,235 federal ADA companies sued for ADA inaction in 2019, 21% of the defendants were sued twice. Speed is key. If you’re not following ADA compliant website law, you could receive multiple lawsuits.
  • The top four industries targeted by ADA website accessibility lawsuits are retail, food service, entertainment/leisure, and hospitality/travel.
  • Over 66% of the top 500 internet retailers have been named in an ADA web accessibility legal action since 2017.
  • 40% of the top 100 U.S. restaurant chains were named in an ADA web accessibility lawsuit since 2017. Restaurants are reliably one of the easiest targets for ADA legal action because their online digital menus rarely adhere to ADA compliant website law.

ADA Website Lawsuit Examples

There is perhaps no better indicator of the reality of ADA laws for websites than real-world examples.

NAD v. Netflix

In 2012, the National Association for the Deaf (NAD) filed a lawsuit against Netflix. They alleged that Netflix failed to provide equal services for the hearing impaired. The judge ruled that online services, or services that exist mostly online (as one could say about Netflix in 2012) were not exempt from ADA requirements. This is one of the earliest precedents set that lead up to the landmark decisions of Blick and Winn-Dixie.

A settlement was eventually reached that mandated Netflix provide closed captions on 100% of their online content within two years. Along with payment of $755,000 in legal fees.

Gil v. Winn Dixie Stores, Inc.

In this case, Winn-Dixie, a major grocery retailer in the American Southeast was sued by a cognitively and visually impaired person. The plaintiff asserted that the Winn-Dixie website was inaccessible through use of screen reading assistive technology.

Judge Robert Scola Jr. found in favor of the plaintiff, saying that the store’s website “had a nexus” (i.e. an overlap) with the store’s physical location. Thus, disabled individuals must be provided full and equal access to it. The recommendation for the remediation of Winn-Dixie’s website was adherence to the WCAG 2.0 guidelines. This decision did not distinguish between A and AA levels.

The case was an impactful early precedent along with the above Blick case. And, having occurred in 2017, played a role in the explosion of federal digital ADA claims since 2017.

Robles v. Domino’s Pizza, LLC

This is one of the most well known and highest profile ADA website accessibility cases out there. Because the defendant is a multi-million dollar restaurant chain that lost.

The legally-blind Guillermo Robles sued Domino’s when he was unable to order a pizza online either using the mobile app or a web browser. The court ruled in favor of Robles and required Domino's institute WCAG adherence for both their desktop website and their mobile app.

In Robles v. Domino’s Pizza LLC, the judge elaborated on Weinstein’s stance around ADA digital ambiguity from the Blick case. They stated “while we understand Domino’s wants the DOJ to issue specific guidelines for website and app accessibility, the Constitution only requires that Domino’s receive fair notice of its legal duties, not a blueprint for compliance.”

Again we find that, in the absence of an officially-sanctioned government blueprint for web accessibility, the WCAG 2.1 AA standard is key.

Domino’s is in the process of filing an appeal.

Markett v. Five Guys Enterprises

Five Guys Burgers and Fries was hit with an ADA web accessibility lawsuit in 2017 and ordered to update their site for web accessibility. While doing so, they were hit with another lawsuit, this time in civil court, for the same thing.

Even though double jeopardy exists and protects defendants from the same suit twice, another legal action may be needed if the first sentence isn’t being carried out.

It’s hard to say if that was the case for Five Guys. Maybe they were just taking their sweet time. But this suit emphasizes the importance of proactive web accessibility compliance and remediation speed. 

WCAG 2.1 AA compliant QR code digital menu

How to Comply with ADA Laws for Websites

A lot of retail, food service, and hospitality businesses are stuck between a rock and a hard place. One one hand, not having a website menu that follows ADA compliant website law leaves you open to expensive legal action. On the other hand, remediating your entire website to become ADA compliant is expensive. Either way, it’s gonna cost money.

But it’s far, far cheaper to remediate than to go to court. And, obviously, there are PR disadvantages around an ADA legal battle. Here’s how to comply with ADA laws for websites, mobile apps, and menus:

  1. Learn how to check if a website is ADA compliant. An ADA compliance checker is a good place to start.
  2. Follow SproutQR’s tips on how to make a website ADA compliant.
  3. Adhere to the WCAG 2.1 AA standard, at least.

ADA Compliant Digital Menus for Bars and Restaurants

Numerous legal findings have made peace with the lack of technical specifications in the ADA. It’s the government’s responsibility to tell you what to do, not exactly how to do it. The technical standard we do have is the WCAG, and legal history shows it an effective defense against ADA claims.

But if you’re a bar or restaurant and your primary customer touchpoint is a digital menu, then there’s an even easier solution. You can partner with a technology company that creates WCAG 2.1 AA-certified QR code menus. By spending around $1 a day on a digital menu solution, you’ll be dramatically decreasing your legal risk. You’ll also be:

  • Opening your menu to a huge number of people that would otherwise be unable to interact with it
  • Giving your menu a boost in the search engine rankings because many of the WCAG guidelines also provide SEO benefits

Book a demo and let SproutQR remove the ADA legal risk from your digital menu. All while supplying you with a contactless menu solution that fits right in with the germ-free expectations of 2020.