Client Alert – Recommended Action to Avoid ADA Website Accessibility Claims

Nov 30, 2016

person-working-on-computerOur firm has recently observed a rise in demand letters threatening legal action against privately-held companies based upon allegations that they are operating websites in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (“ADA”) by restricting equal access for blind and visually impaired users and/or deaf and hearing impaired users.  Certain law firms have filed multiple lawsuits alleging ADA violations based upon website accessibility, and also appear to have sent thousands of letters to companies demanding payments in order to settle ADA web access claims in advance of threatened litigation.  To date, the lawsuits and demand letters have targeted retailers, restauranteurs and banks/credit unions, among other businesses with an online presence.

Title III of the ADA prohibits discrimination against any individual “on the basis of disability in the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages or accommodations of any place of public accommodation,” 42 U.S.C. § 12182(a) (emphasis added).  There are currently no specific federal standards for website accessibility under the ADA, but the United States Department of Justice (“DOJ”) has taken the position that businesses which offer goods and services to the public through websites are public accommodations that must comply with the general accessibility mandate of the ADA, and emphasized that businesses should make their websites accessible to the disabled.  The DOJ is in the process of developing regulations to address website accessibility, but has announced that it will not finalize these regulations until 2018 at the earliest.

In the meantime, private law firms are continuing to send pre-suit demand letters to unsuspecting companies mandating that the businesses agree to a confidential settlement agreement providing for payment of attorney’s fees/expenses and enactment of certain remedial measures in order to avoid costly litigation.

In order to avoid costly and burdensome litigation (or pre-litigation settlement demands), all companies that operate a website offering goods and services to the public should take immediate action to ensure that the website complies with the general accessibility mandate of the ADA.  Although the DOJ remains in the process of developing specific regulations, public commentators have advised businesses to comply with Version 2.0 of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (“WCAG 2.0,” available at https://www.w3.org/TR/WCAG20), and the DOJ has stated that it considers a website to be accessible if it complies with these guidelines.  Accordingly, we recommend that you immediately contact your IT service provider to confirm that your website is in compliance with the WCAG 2.0 guidelines.

For more information regarding the issues discussed in this Client Alert, please contact Martin Carroll at mcarroll@foxswibel.com or Erik Ives at eives@foxswibel.com.

This Litigation Law Alert is intended to provide general information regarding developments in the law. It is not intended to constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon as such.