Under Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and other similar state laws, businesses providing goods and services to the public are required to ensure their products and facilities are accessible to the disabled. Historically, ADA lawsuits focused on physical access barriers to businesses. In the past several years, however, thousands of lawsuits have been filed alleging that company websites qualify as places of public accommodation and, as such, websites with access barriers (such as websites not compatible with screen-reading software) deny disabled individuals the right of equal access. The theory is that poorly designed websites can create unnecessary barriers for people with disabilities, mainly the blind or visually impaired, just as poorly designed buildings prevent some people with disabilities from entering. Plaintiffs in these lawsuits typically seek injunctive relief (i.e., changes to the website) and attorneys’ fees that are authorized by statute. Some state laws allow plaintiff’s to recover civil penalties.
Neither Congress nor the Department of Justice (the agency responsible for enforcing the ADA) has adequately clarified the scope of the ADA as to private website compliance. As such, courts have struggled to apply the law, and have done so inconsistently. Often, the strength of a claim will hinge on the jurisdiction where the case is pending and the line of business that defendant is engaged in.
The attorneys in McDonald Hopkins’ Website Accessibility Litigation Practice Group have the knowledge, experience, and ability to efficiently and effectively defend these types of lawsuits. Our attorneys have successfully handled inquires from the Department of Justice and have the technical capability to understand the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) established by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), which are often cited by courts and state statutes as the standard for website compliance. Our attorneys are also available for proactive counseling aimed at preventing accessibility claims before they progress to a lawsuit.