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In 2019 the number of website accessibility lawsuits filed reached 2,258. These cases have almost tripled each year since 2016 when just 262 cases were brought, which tripled in 2017 to 814 and then in 2018, 2,314 cases we brought. We believe that the number of cases in 2019 did not increase as much because the case against Dominos which was sent to the supreme court. Once the court chose not to hear the case the number began to increase again.
Most of these cases are based on allegations that websites and apps are not accessible to people who are blind or visually-impaired and use assistive technology like screen readers. These suits represent people exercising their rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). As web accessibility awareness continues to grow, and as long as the Department of Justice (DOJ) does not act to prescribe by law website accessibility standards, then it is likely that individuals will continue to use lawsuits as a method of moving the needle toward accessible web experiences.
Does the ADA really apply to websites?
Based on the increase and persistence of lawsuits with plaintiff-favored rulings, we must admit, with a resounding yes!. The ADA prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in places of public accommodation. The January 2019 reversal in the Domino's accessibility case clearly demonstrates these places don't need to be physical locations. As stated in the summary of that reversal states, "Even though customers primarily accessed the website and app away from Domino's physical restaurants, the panel stated that the ADA applies to the services of public accommodation, not services in a place of public accommodation."
Will these accessibility lawsuits continue?
According to Mark Shapiro, President of the Bureau of Internet Accessibility said: "Based on the current trends, we think website accessibility lawsuits will not only continue but will continue to increase in volume. At this point, we would not be surprised if the number of lawsuits filed in 2019 is 2.5 times higher than in 2018." Based on the trends through 2018, this would mean a significant increase can be anticipated.
How can companies protect themselves from web accessibility lawsuits?
The case against Beyonce shows lawsuits can hit just about any industry. There are defined web accessibility standards that can be put in place, and ultimately help protect companies from lawsuits. While the ADA doesn't have specific standards, judges are ruling that compliance with the WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) can be sufficient. Therefore, as the most universally-accepted accessibility standards, our recommendation is to comply with WCAG for protection from accessibility lawsuits.
Breakdown of Accessibility Lawsuits in 2019¹
The industries that were affected were:
- Retail with 1,347 or 60% of all lawsuits
- Food Service with 202 or 9% of all lawsuits
- Entertainment & Leisure 194 or 8% of all lawsuits
- Travel & Hospitality with 157 or 7% of all lawsuits
- Self-Service with 60 or 3% of all lawsuits
- Real Estate Agencies and Properties with 47 or 2% of all lawsuits
- Automotive, Education, Digital Media Agencies, Fitness & Wellness, Insurance, telecommunications, and others make up the remaining 246 or 11% of all lawsuits.
Over 66%² of all the internet retailers' top 500 have been named in an ADA web or app-accessibility suit and 40% of them have been named more than once.
We are here to help you with your accessibility needs
We have built an ADA compliant site for the 12th largest franchise holder in the US. Early on, it was easier to build an ADA compliant site, rather than rebuild the site we had built a few years prior. The problem with the ADA site was that with each software or content update we were required to go through the exercise of ensuring compliance.
Aha! has now come across a solution we are offering to our clients that ensures compliance with the use of AI (Artificial Intelligence) to automatically manage compliance with the WCAG 2.1 and keeps your website accessible at all times. If you want to be sure that your site is compliant and your company is safe from one of these lawsuits. Please Contact Us.