Accessibility isn’t new
In the physical world, architects, designers and builders are creating spaces with accessibility in mind. For those hesitant to commit fully to accessibility, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), set up frameworks, inspections, and punitive damages to ensure public spaces could be used by all people.
Despite the broad move to online commerce, no similar measures have been implemented online. Until now.
Lawsuits have increased in recent years
While the legislative and executive bodies have failed to make progress, courts have been busy. There was a 281% increase in ADA lawsuits from 2017 to 2018, and we expect to see a similar uptick in 2019 (the numbers aren’t in, as of writing).
Plaintiffs have been filing, and winning, cases against companies who weren’t making accomodations for disabled users on their sites. Because these were primarily state and local courts, this led to a patchwork of precedent and further confusion about who is affected and what they should do about it.
The Dominos Case
In October of 2019, the Supreme Court handed down a ruling that disability rights activists consider a victory. The court declined to hear Domino’s Pizza’s petition about whether or not its website is accessible, upholding a lower court decision.
The suit was brought against Domino’s by Guillermo Robles, a blind man who was unable to order pizza or receive a discount through the company’s website or app. Domino’s argued that because no legal statutes exist defining the requirements for online ADA compliance, they were not liable for their failure to serve users with disabilities (note to Dominos, do better).
Circuit Judge John B. Owens writing in the lower court’s decision is clear:
“At least since 1996, Domino’s has been on notice that its online offerings must effectively communicate with its disabled customers and facilitate ‘full and equal enjoyment’ of Domino’s goods and services.”
When the Supreme Court upheld this decision, they effectively made this federal law in the US.
Businesses, you’re now effectively on notice, too.
What should you do?
First, review your risk. There are a number of online resources to help determine your liability, including ours. The bottom line is, if you serve customers online, you are a target for litigation.
Then, do something. That may sound trite, but progress is better than perfection, at least while the legal ramifications continue to shake out. For now, a good faith-effort may protect your business in court and garner good will from your audience.
If you want our help, we’ve developed an audit to determine a website’s current state of accessibility and recommend common-sense next steps. Please reach out if you’d like to learn more.
TLDR: You probably haven’t thought enough about online ADA compliance, but you’re on notice now.