Over the past few months, companies across the country have received demand letters from plaintiffs’ firms and some disability rights advocacy groups alleging the company is violating Title III of the ADA because its website is not sufficiently accessible to individuals with disabilities
What You Need to Know
- Dozens of lawsuits have also been filed in the past few months seeking to force companies to modify their websites to conform to the WCAG 2.0 AA Guidelines.
- Even in the absence of clear regulatory standards, the DOJ and private plaintiffs have embraced the position that websites should be accessible.
- The DOJ seems to be asserting in its investigations and settlement agreements that WCAG 2.0 AA is the only means of providing website accessibility to vision-impaired consumers and users.
Gavin Appleby, Peter Petesch AND Mark Phillis
February 22 2016
Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), providing for equal access for persons with disabilities in places of public accommodation, has made the country far more accessible. Yet, given its highly technical (and often ambiguous) design, plaintiffs’ firms and disability rights advocates file claims over unlawful barriers and technical violations against even the most conscientious places of public accommodation (e.g., hotels, restaurants, theaters, convention centers, stores, service establishments, healthcare facilities, transportation depots, libraries, recreation places, schools, etc.). Fortunately for companies, Title III limits liability to injunctive relief and attorneys’ fees for prevailing parties, and creates opportunities to moot – or even foreclose – claims by eliminating barriers promptly or through a comprehensive remediation plan.
Although the 2008 amendments to the ADA (the ADAAA), which expanded interpretations of who is protected under the law, should not have appreciably impacted Title III claims in the same manner as employment claims, and 2010 changes to the design standards and regulations governing places of public accommodation did not radically alter the landscape for businesses, Title III claims are nonetheless on the rise. In 2014, the Wall Street Journal reported that Title III lawsuits had increased by 55% from the prior year.1 The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), which enforces Title III, received 6,391 accessibility complaints in fiscal year 2015 – representing a 40% increase over claims in the prior fiscal year. Claims cover areas as diverse as barriers to wheelchairs in physical facilities, parking lots, gas station pumps, acceptance of service animals, effective communication for deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals, access to treatment in healthcare facilities and website accessibility by vision and hearing-impaired persons. Although this article focuses mainly on website accessibility, the basic principles of self-monitoring and eliminating barriers through alterations and training hold true for all Title III claims.