Every business should strive to make their websites fully accessible to all web users, including people with disabilities. Aside from increasing their reach by ensuring that people suffering from various disabilities are able to visit and fully enjoy their website, it’s also an excellent way to protect your company from possible lawsuits.
Recently, there has been a noticeable increase in accessibility-related legal actions. Thousands of lawsuits have been filed against small and medium-sized businesses for their failure to adhere to the standards set by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) when it comes to website accessibility. This is a wake-up call for companies of all sizes to start taking accessibility requirements seriously unless they want to suffer the same consequences.
Web accessibility lawsuits can be filed against any business that fails to comply with the WCAG and ADA standard. However, web accessibility regulations affect some industries more than others. Here are a few industries that need to prioritize website accessibility to ensure they don’t face any legal problems in the future:
The Education Industry
Educational institutions have been known to champion people with disabilities, establishing courses and programs that allow people with special needs to learn and grow to their fullest potential. Surprisingly, however, the education industry has also been one of the most affected sectors when it comes to web accessibility lawsuits. For instance, a single lawsuit covered fifty US universities in allegations of inaccessibility.
Since most educational institutions are public entities, they are required by the ADA to make sure that all their services and facilities are fully accessible, and this extends to their websites. The fact that most of these schools also receive government funding makes them more liable to keep the standards of the law when it comes to public accessibility.
High profile cases involving educational institutions, such as the MIT-Harvard case from 2015, further highlighted the struggles of the industry in providing equal access for people with disabilities. In the MIT- Harvard lawsuit, the plaintiff called out the inability of the universities to allow deaf website visitors to fully access their online education platforms. Just last year, the lawsuit ended in a partial settlement and Harvard agreed to modify their website to better suit the needs of people with disabilities. This proves that even premier academic institutions are not excused from accessibility requirements.
The Food Industry
The food industry has significantly benefited from the digitization trend. By putting up a website to display their restaurant or food service, customers are able to browse various food menus and scout different locations for their preferred cuisines. Some websites even have their own delivery services so that customers can order online, considerably increasing the business’s reach.
However, this new dependence on the internet has also exposed the food industry to accessibility claims. Several big restaurants have made headlines with accessibility lawsuits filed against them, including popular brands such as Domino’s Pizza and Dunkin’ Donuts. Smaller food businesses are also being caught in the rising wave of accessibility cases, and it’s harder for these restaurants to survive a lengthy court battle due to the financial liabilities as well as the potential damage to the brand. As such, it becomes more urgent for restaurants and food businesses to step up in their accessibility efforts to ensure compliance with regulatory standards.
The eCommerce Industry
The eCommerce industry experienced a global surge during the coronavirus pandemic, as people heavily relied on online transactions to secure their needs while most of the world was in lockdown. Even before the pandemic hit, the eCommerce industry was already experiencing a rise in demand due to how convenient it was to shop online instead of physically visiting a store. With more and more businesses transferring to online platforms to sell their products, it comes as no surprise that a lot of these new websites fail to comply with the necessary accessibility requirements.
Some online shops argue that the current accessibility guidelines only cover businesses that launch online websites as an extension of their company. After all, accessibility laws such as the ADA were passed way before the internet came into existence, couldn’t have predicted a time when businesses would be fully online and not tied up to a physical store or presence of any kind.
Despite this argument, several federal decisions in the US have come to the same conclusion: that a website-only enterprise is still required to follow accessibility laws. For example, an accessibility lawsuit was recently slapped against Scribd, a digital library with no physical centers, and yet a Vermont court upheld the ruling that the business’s website was still required to be in compliance with the accessibility guidelines set by the ADA.
The Finance Industry
The finance industry was actually one of the first to experience lawsuits regarding accessibility compliance. Back in 2000, Bank of America was hit with a lawsuit for not providing equal website access to blind people. As part of its settlement, the established financing institution promised to modify its site’s user interface to better serve people with visual impairments, and they also planned to install talking ATMs for a better customer experience.
Many other big banks have made the list of lawsuit defendants since then, including Washington Mutual, HSBC, Sovereign Bank, First Union, and Bank One. Since 2016, industry leaders have started to prioritize accessibility features for both their physical and online services to make sure that their clients are properly serviced while also protecting themselves from possible legal actions.
The Healthcare Industry
The healthcare industry understands the risks of legal liability quite well, primarily because of how easy privacy and malpractice issues can cause a legal action to surface. However, accessibility compliance has also become a major reason for lawsuits against the industry recently.
A lot of disabled people cope with medical conditions that require them to consistently get in touch with their healthcare providers, and unfortunately not all healthcare companies have a website that values accessibility for everyone.
One such example is Wellpoint, a health insurance company that received a lawsuit from two people with visual disabilities. According to the plaintiffs, most of the features on their website were inaccessible for visually-impaired users. The court promptly agreed with the plaintiffs, and Wellpoint needed to reconfigure their website’s accessibility options as part of the settlement.
A Final Word on Businesses and Web Accessibility Lawsuits
It’s important to ensure that your website allows users, disabled or not, to fully access all of its features for better reach and customer service. Many businesses tend to forget the importance of accessibility when it comes to their online presence, and therefore become more prone to accessibility lawsuits that can cause them significant damages not just financially but also reputation-wise.
If your business’s online page doesn’t have accessibility features installed yet, or if you’re unsure that your current website complies with the standards set by the ADA and the WCAG, you can always contact Access-A-Pal for professional advice. Access-A-Pal is an expert in making sure that your website provides equal accessibility for people of various disabilities, and they can easily assist you towards getting a 100% compliance rate with the existing regulations so that you won’t have to worry about potential lawsuits.