ADA Website Compliance in New York: Here’s What You Need To Know
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If your business has an online presence, you have to observe ADA website compliance. New York companies, in particular take a lot of risks if they do not make an effort to consider it as New York is one of the states with the most serial litigant activity. But what is the ADA, and why is it important, especially to New York business owners? What are its advantages and disadvantages for my business and its website?
ADA stands for the Americans with Disabilities Act. This is a landmark civil rights law passed by the Bush administration in 1990 that focuses on accessibility to protect persons with disabilities against discrimination. Due to this federal law, both government offices and private businesses must ensure that any considered barriers to access are removed to provide equal opportunities to all.
There are five Titles under this law. Today, we’re going to focus particularly on the third section of the ADA, which for New York business websites is the most important.
Title III of the ADA particularly covers businesses that operate at a physical location as these are places of public accommodations.
Ever since Seyfarth Shaw, a firm that annually quantifies the number of lawsuits filed for Title III, started recording accessibility violations a decade ago, they have seen marked increases every year. In fact, between 2017 and 2018, there was a significant 177% rise in lawsuits for ADA compliance, with a temporary lull between 2018 and 2019. Furthermore, despite the numerous closures that happened due to the COVID-19 pandemic since the start of 2020, there was still a 12% increase in lawsuits than the 2019 tally.
In the country, New York has been in the lead in the number of lawsuits, followed by Florida and California. In the same report, Seyfarth pointed to the focus of New York attorneys on Braille gift card lawsuits to explain the rise in New York cases, still observing at the same time that the surge really began “in 2017 after New York federal judges allowed website accessibility cases to proceed to discovery”.
It is important to remember that the ADA was written long before the internet became an institution. It is a big part of our lives for many of us from the moment we wake up until the moment before we go to sleep. But just because the ADA does not specifically spell the internet in its minimum anti-discrimination requirements does not mean that damages cannot be claimed for web accessibility violations.
In fact, the Department of Justice made this position crystal clear in this 2018 letter, saying: “The Department first articulated its interpretation that the ADA applies to public accommodations’ websites over 20 years ago. This interpretation is consistent with the ADA’s title III requirement that the goods, services, privileges, or activities provided by places of public accommodation be equally accessible to people with disabilities.”
Even if you don’t hear it from the Department of Justice itself, there is no doubt that accessibility requirements should also apply to web content. After all, millions of people access websites every day, and websites should accommodate users anticipating all kinds of needs that barriers may hamper. For example, a website can prove to be inaccessible if it cannot provide closed captioning for audio in videos or alternate text for images used throughout. These are some of the basic accessibility requirements business websites should observe if they want to avoid unnecessary litigation.
When it comes to website accessibility, the legal rules are not wrought into the ADA. However, courts are increasingly referring to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) for guidance regarding legal claims for online accessibility non-compliance.
The WCAG is written by the World Wide Web Consortium, which pools resources from various web organizations to write these international standards. Currently, the WCAG 2.2 is in development and is set to be released later in 2022. The latest acknowledged version of these standards can be found in the WCAG 2.1.
The basic rights of the ordinary consumer must be acknowledged not just for the legal fees you might have to pay for but also for the bigger market you can welcome through compliance with the laws.
In the U.S., there are at least 61 million Americans currently living with disabilities, according to the CDC. If you have a business that provides goods and services to the general populace, it must comply with the ADA. And if your New York business has a website address, it must comply with the WCAG 2.1.
Every day, you must expect that there will be at least one user who will visit your online pages which might have a disability, whether through sight, hearing, or learning difficulties. Make no mistake about it, online accessibility is now mandatory, and it will increasingly become so as more people seek essential goods through online means.
Today, there are already many ways to check if your website is accessible to all users. You might even be able to do this on your own through manual testing. But for the best legal guidance, you can seek a free service like the one we provide.
Don’t let your company be the next website talked about on New York news due to ADA-related violations! Find out if your site is accessible today.