The year 2020 was an unusual one from several perspectives. As far as website accessibility is concerned, the COVID-19 pandemic had temporarily stalled the rise of ADA lawsuits from the previous year. But as the lockdown effects started to wear off, there was a noticeable increase in the web accessibility lawsuits towards the last quarter of 2020.
Even though the real numbers are yet to come out in public, predictions are that the numbers in the last quarter made up for the decrease at the beginning of the year. Some say that there might have even been an increase in the number of ADA lawsuits from 2019.
We also saw a Congressman trying to pass a bill to define website accessibility guidelines. However, the real aim of the bill was to protect the businesses which had inaccessible websites. Fortunately, the gambit did not work, and the bill failed to pass in 2021.
High-Profile ADA Lawsuits
We are only at the end of January, and a string of web accessibility lawsuits has started to become prominent. The Golden State Warriors is the most recent recipient of a high-profile ADA lawsuit for an inaccessible website.
A class action complaint got filed on January 21, 2021, against the Warrior’s website in a United States District Court of California. The complaint claims that the website is in violation of the ADA as well as California’s Unruh Civil Rights Act (UCRA) since visually impaired users are not able to access it.
The decision for several other high-profile ADA lawsuits are pending, and we can expect to see the legal decisions on them in 2021.
We have also started noticing a trend of businesses receiving web accessibility lawsuit notice from out-of-state plaintiff firms. These lawsuits are brought forward by people who act as testers for business websites to find any potential violation of website accessibility.
The trend is starting to be known as “surf-by” lawsuits as the plaintiff surf on the Internet looking for websites that do not meet the WCAG 2.1 guidelines. Plaintiffs often file multiple lawsuits, which are usually backed by the same law firm.
Even though the primary goal of “surf-by” lawsuits is to promote website accessibility, people also do it for financial incentives. Title III of the ADA does not allow any monetary compensation for damages caused by an inaccessible business website.
However, state laws like Unruh Civil Rights Act and New York’s Human Rights Law allow compensation for damages. That means a business facing a “surf-by” lawsuit might have to shell out more than the legal charges during the litigation process and post-trial. That is why most companies facing these lawsuits opt for out-of-court settlements to reduce subsequent legal and compensatory losses.
Many business owners are crying foul play over such web accessibility lawsuits. However, the United States Department of Justice has clearly set forth the current WCAG 2.1 guidelines as a minimum requirement to make a website accessible.
Web Accessibility Solutions
Not everyone who has noticed the absence of website accessibility for American businesses is filing a lawsuit against them. Some entrepreneurs are also working towards creating solutions for business websites to meet ADA and WCAG 2.1 requirements.
Web accessibility start-up accessiBe developed and ADA compliant system powered by AI that makes websites compliant and accessible. This is achieved via both an interface widget and a back-end algorithm that makes menus, buttons, images and other elements accessible with continuous remediation and monitoring.
Other solutions like LightHouse allow developers to measure and improve the quality of web pages in terms of design, user experience and audits for performance and accessibility. The Chrome extension Axe, allows for easy testing.
We can definitely expect such advanced technology solutions to solve the accessibility challenges presented by the Internet.
The New DOJ
The Department of Justice was quite negligent about web accessibility problems under the Trump Administration. However, the new DOJ under the Biden administration would probably be more zealous in enforcing web accessibility laws.
We can expect the WCAG 2.2 guidelines to become official in 2021. The new DOJ might also emphasize the importance of overall website accessibility standards as we have started to notice lawsuits over audibility challenges.
We feel that businesses in America should start taking the necessary steps to mitigate the risks of ADA lawsuits. Auditing and reviewing accessibility challenges on a website is not a very difficult job. There are several free tools available on the Internet which can alert a website owner of problematic areas.
With the advancement of AI-powered accessibility solutions, business owners can make their websites accessible with a few lines of code. That saves them from the hassle of hiring developers to redesign their site from scratch. If they fail to take the necessary steps for website accessibility, they might have to face harsher legal treatment in 2021.