Is Your Website Compliant? The Legal Consequences of Inaccessible Websites

Recent legal developments could spell trouble for American businesses of all shapes and sizes. In 2018, plaintiffs filed over 2200 website accessibility lawsuits. That number has nearly tripled from the year before — and the year before that. According to ADATitleiii.com,  “the numbers are in for total website accessibility lawsuit filings in federal courts in 2021, and they show a whopping 14% increase from 2020.”

There are no clear guidelines for website compliance according to the Americans with Disabilities Act. However, some jurisdictions have ruled that company websites must provide adequate accessibility as if they were a physical storefront.

There have been few pushbacks to these decisions. As this trend continues, there’s a higher likelihood that you might find yourself in legal trouble. We’ll cover some consequences of an inaccessible website and show you how you can make your website compliant.

What Is an Inaccessible Website?
Every business should be familiar with Title iii of the ADA. It requires them to provide accommodations for people with disabilities. Does your company have a physical storefront and an online website? If so, then your website also has an obligation to be accessible to people with disabilities.

An inaccessible website does not offer text-to-audio or audio-to-text services. They are also incompatible with devices and programs that can render them. If a screen reader does not work on your website, legal precedent suggests you could be breaking the ADA.

When it comes to website accessibility, not even large companies have been spared. When a plaintiff’s screen reader was incompatible with Winn-Dixie’s website, the plaintiff brought the company to court. They were ultimately found guilty of denying customers equal access to their services.

Consequences of ADA Noncompliance
If it can happen to Winn-Dixie, it most certainly can happen to any business. Here are just a few consequences of breaking website compliance expectations, in accordance with the ADA:

1. Legal Fees
If a company chooses to defend itself in court, attorney fees will be expensive enough. Also consider that if the company loses, it will likely pay for the plaintiff’s lawyer fees and some additional charges.

In a class-action lawsuit against Target in 2008, they eventually settled and paid over $6 million in damages. Along with this charge, they also paid nearly $4 million for the cost of the plaintiff’s attorneys.

Considering the company’s personal legal costs, ADA accessibility non-compliance likely cost the company over $15 million.

2. Accessibility Implementation
Thus far, few companies have succeeded in fighting back. As a result of the lost legal battle, the court will mandate that the company improve website accessibility — because, really, do they want to get sued again?

But making a website compliant does come at a cost, which is likely why several of these large companies never upgraded their digital storefronts. A professional estimated that changes to the Winn-Dixie website would cost around $40,000.

Winn-Dixie claimed that it set aside nearly five times that amount to make the change. It seems the bad press encouraged the company to go far beyond normal accessibility standards after the result of the lawsuit.If they had made the simple changes beforehand, they would have spent $200,000 less to upgrade the website.

3. Civil Fines
If your website is inaccessible, your business may also have to pay the government a fine. When a business is found to be breaking ADA accessibility rules, they can expect to pay $55,000 to $75,000. Repeated missteps incur higher fines of about $150,000.

These fines are an additional cost on top of payments to plaintiffs and lawyer fees.

4. Staff Training
Let’s say you overlooked accessibility in regards to your website. Your physical storefront may be in complete compliance with ADA regulations. Even so, the court may require you to implement an ADA staff training program.

This sounds ludicrous, but this legal precedent does exist. Seattle Public Schools was sued after a 2012 update made the website incompatible with screen readers. The school settled and spent around $750,000 to not only upgrade the website and pay their lawyers, but also for an accessibility coordinator and ADA staff training.

That’s right. Your digital website could require expensive training at your physical store, even if your website is the one at fault.

Make Your Website Compliant with the ADA
Beyond serious fines and lawyer expenses, bad press can have a serious impact on the success of your business. It’s easy to make your website compliant with the ADA. Avoid the impact of serious fees and splurge on website accessibility features.

Since the ADA doesn’t offer benchmark standards pertaining to website access, most legal experts suggest you follow WCAG accessibility standards. WCAG (Website Content Accessibility Guidelines) provides recommendations for website developers.

But if you want to know the specifics of WCAG and what specific changes need to be made for your website, you’ll want to splurge on a professional. A variety of ADA compliance services can help you identify website noncompliance and guide the development of your improved website.

You’ll first want a website accessibility audit. This is where a legal professional searches your website for any accessibility problems. If your web developer is not a legal professional — and they probably aren’t — then you’ll also want a professional to guide them during the website development process.

Get ADA Accessible
Legal settlements are costly expenses that can cripple even the most robust businesses. Don’t leave yourself open to legal liability. You’ll not only end up paying for the website improvements, but you’ll also take a hit from lawyer fees, fines, and other types of compensation.

Do you want to know if your website meetings the WCAG accessibility standards for ADA accessibility?

Contact us to have our professional team perform an accessibility audit of your website. We’ll set you on the right path and keep you out of the courtrooms for accessibility claims.

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