Everyone knows that running a small business is tough. Between building up a customer base and establishing an efficient operating model, there’s not a lot of time or money for the support functions that larger companies take for granted. Early-stage business owners often end up wearing multiple hats – they need to be the CEO, the CIO, the CFO and the Head of HR, all rolled into one.
Even when businesses grow a little larger, it doesn’t make financial sense to do everything in-house. If you’re running a small chain of restaurants or boutiques, for example, you probably don’t have your own legal team on the payroll. If someone brings a lawsuit against you, you need to retain external counsel – and mounting a defense can be a stressful, expensive and disruptive process.
Size is no defense
Federal and State legislation often exempts smaller businesses from some of the legal and regulatory requirements that publicly listed companies and other large enterprises must fulfill. However, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) does not discriminate. For all intents and purposes, it applies equally to all businesses, regardless of their size. Bakeries, restaurants, bars, barber shops and laundromats are all cited as examples of entities that fall within the scope of the Act.
As a result, even the mom-and-poppest of mom-and-pop businesses need to take heed of the ADA’s accessibility guidelines, which apply not only to a company’s physical premises, but also to its online presence. The precise requirements for compliance are not defined in the Act itself, but the outcomes of recent court cases suggest that if your business has a website, your safest option is to make sure it conforms to W3C accessibility standards.
Is it worth the risk?
Even so, as a busy small business owner, you might think it’s worth taking the risk. It’s not like you have millions of customers, so the chance that one of them might bring a lawsuit against you seems small. And where’s the incentive? Compared to a McDonald’s or a Walmart, you may feel that your business doesn’t make enough money to be worth suing!
That’s a potentially dangerous mistake. Even a cursory glance at recent lawsuits filed under Title III of the ADA shows that small businesses are a frequent target for litigation. According to our tracking, in January 2020 at least 37 of the 107 defendants were small businesses: restaurants, bars, nightclubs, movie theaters, jewelers, fashion boutiques and pharmacies, and even single-person consultancies.
Legal costs and loss of revenue
In at least one of the January cases, the company named as defendant – a vintage designer clothing store with four locations in New York City – has now, as of the timing of this blog post, taken its main website offline, in response to the lawsuit. It currently presents a bare static page, notifying customers that the site “is under construction while we rebuild it to ensure it is accessible to everyone… in the meantime, keep shopping our retail locations.” Don’t let this be you. This is completely avoidable.
Since many small businesses today use their website as a virtual storefront, taking a site down for even a few days can have a huge impact on sales. A long-running court case could be disastrous—loss of revenue from online sales, combined with legal expenses and the cost of redeveloping the site, could make the difference between a profitable, growing business and one that’s headed for the bankruptcy courts.
Proactively protecting your business
If you’re unsure whether you have the financial resources to withstand the impact of an ADA lawsuit or the legal expertise to fight back, there’s an easy way out: avoid the risk in the first place. Ensure your website is designed and engineered in full conformance with W3C accessibility standards—and get it checked regularly as you add new content to avoid introducing any new issues.
If you want to avoid the growing legal risk of a non-compliant website, AudioEye can help. We offer fast and effective ADA compliance solutions that enable our clients to fend off lawsuits from day one. Don’t wait to be sued, start your compliance journey with AudioEye today.