Web accessibility has been becoming a hot topic among business owners and developers. While entrepreneurs and digital marketers have been putting the onus of building accessible websites on developers, there’s been a gradual shift in mindset.
This change has been primarily fostered by the growing number of web accessibility lawsuits. For instance, more than 2250 web accessibility lawsuits were filed in federal courts in 2019 against businesses whose websites and mobile apps failed to comply with the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
ADA: A Closer Look
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) came into effect in 1990 to ensure that people with disabilities have equal access to products/services offered by various businesses. Considering that the internet was still in its infancy at that time, the law doesn’t specify any guidelines for business websites, apps, and other digital assets.
This, in turn, has resulted in a plethora of chaos and ambiguity about whether the ADA is applicable to an organization’s digital presence. Nevertheless, this hasn’t prevented consumers and disability advocates from filing web accessibility lawsuits against established brands for non-compliance with the ADA.
Renowned brands, including Domino’s Pizza, Netflix, Nike, and Winn-Dixie, have been slapped with ADA Title III lawsuits. The court verdicts in most of these cases have established that a business’s digital presence is an extension of its physical premises and should, therefore, be ADA-compliant.
Are Maryland Businesses Susceptible?
If you own a business that caters to the common public and profits from it, you’re likely legally mandated to build an ADA-compliant website. Whether you’re running an online store or a luxury hotel in Maryland, your business could attract a string of web accessibility lawsuits if your website fails to adhere to the ADA.
This has been highlighted by the recent influx of ADA Title III lawsuits and demand letters filed against various hotels in Maryland. The latest of these lawsuits was filed by self-proclaimed ADA-compliance tester, Deborah Laufer.
Based out of Florida, Ms. Laufer has sued hotels in various states, including Maryland, Georgia, Texas, Illinois, and New York, for not showcasing adequate information about disabled-friendly amenities in the hotel’s accommodations on their websites, as well as those of third-party booking agents.
The plaintiff reviews hotel websites to check whether they’re providing accessibility-inclusive amenities on their premises and sues them if the information is missing from the websites. One of the latest of these lawsuits was filed against BRE/ESA Portfolio, LLC in the District Court of Maryland.
What Do the Courts Say?
In the Deborah Laufer v. BRE/ESA Portfolio, LLC case, a District Court of Maryland judge dismissed the complaint, highlighting the fact that the plaintiff failed to showcase her standing to sue under Title III of the U.S. constitution.
This verdict came only less than a month after another Maryland judge had dismissed one of Ms. Laufer’s earlier complaints against Ft. Meade Hospitality. Nevertheless, the plaintiff has filed more than 500 ADA Title III lawsuits against various hotels.
Impact on Maryland Businesses
So, what does this mean for businesses in Maryland? To begin with, even if a court dismisses an ADA lawsuit against your organization, you’d still have to bear the hefty cost of legal counsel and court proceedings.
Also, with the growing awareness about website accessibility, many courts are passing judgments in the plaintiffs’ favor. This, in turn, means you’d be liable to legal penalties and compensation. Needless to say, small and mid-sized businesses (SMBs) in Maryland may not have the resources and funds to recover the expense of such lawsuits.
It’s worth mentioning here that a web accessibility lawsuit against your business results in deeper damage beyond the financial repercussions. It adversely affects customer trust and loyalty and takes a toll on your brand-building efforts.
Considering that SMBs strive hard to build brand reputation and credibility, web accessibility lawsuits could deal a massive blow to their image. This, in turn, will plunge sales and revenue. Prioritizing website accessibility, on the other hand, will instantly put you in the good books of the disabled community.
What Actions Should Business Owners Take?
The best way to keep ADA Title III lawsuits at bay is to make your business website, mobile app, and other online tools accessibility inclusive. This, in turn, involves re-coding and redesigning your website to enable keyboard access and support assistive technology, such as screen readers and Braille terminals.
The key is to achieve AA level of compliance with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1. We understand that small business owners may not always have the required skills to implement website accessibility measures. Nor do they have enough resources to hire full-time developers for this purpose.
A faster and more cost-effective alternative is to use a fully automated web accessibility solution to make your website accessibility inclusive. There are a few tools that use powerful AI algorithms to scan your website and automatically fix accessibility issues.
If you want the latest news and updates on AI-enabled web accessibility solutions then following a company like accessiBe on twitter is a good start. They share regular posts on the latest web accessibility technologies and news. They routinely share posts on how web accessibility initiatives help communities and how businesses can easily transform their websites to make them compliant.
Building accessible websites is the shared responsibility of developers, marketers, content creators, and business owners. Modern AI-driven web accessibility solutions have made it possible to create accessibility inclusive websites without delving into the intricacies of web programming.
Ultimately, an accessible website will positively impact various aspects of your business, including brand reputation and trust. Also, it’ll give you an opportunity to make the internet a more inclusive space for people with disabilities.
Has your organization ever had to deal with a web accessibility lawsuit? Share your experience in the comments section below.