Does your website feature audio narrations to accompany every image or video to aid the hard-of-hearing? Are they equipped with alternative text that can be read by software aloud for the visually impaired? We doubt it.
The good news is that you're not alone. The bad news is that it could soon be a violation of federal and state law. This arises out of growing worry over the applicability of some sections of the American with Disabilities Act to business websites, a legal issue that had previously sounded too far-fetched to even be concerned about. The question remains -- is your website compliant?
ADA Applies to Websites?
Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, both public and private employers are legally prohibited from discriminating against disabled but qualified individuals with regards to hiring, firing, advancement in their jobs, training, and a few other employment related points. For decades this was thought to only apply to brick-and-mortar stores.
No more. A string of lawsuits related to public accessibility to online websites including H&R Block and Peopod has gotten people wondering whether or not they too might have to review their own business website for disabled-friendliness.
"Place of Public Accommodation"
At the core of the legal issue is whether or not the Internet is a "place of public accommodation," a subject over which the ADA is given juridical reach. The argument goes like this: if Target or Starbucks is a place of public accommodation, then why not their websites as well?
Well, a cursory review of the cases mentioned above seems to validate this point of view. And it doesn't help that the appetite for suing defendants is high. Since January of 2013, more than 2,300 federal disabled-access suits have been filed in that state's Southern District Court. According to Boca Raton lawyer Allen Weitzman, ADA suits get bad press because plaintiffs can vexatiously sue from the comfort of their own chaise lounge and laptop.
A "Nexus" Between Your Store and Site
As it stands, the law seems to indicate that so long as there is a nexus between your physical business and your website, then looming future ADA restrictions might apply, and you best consider updating your site to be more accommodating for those with disabilities. DOJ announced in 2010 that it would issue proposed website accessibility regulations for state and local governments, but those recommendations have not yet materialized. So, the next question is whether or not a strictly online business must also worry about ADA compliance. But since lawyers eventually must see their clients physically, perhaps this isn't something we can rely on.
- The Next Frontier in ADA Litigation: Website and App Access for the Disabled (Orrick.com)
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