On July 20th, 2017, the Department of Justice (DOJ) placed Website accessibility rulemaking on the ‘inactive list’. For website owners who were waiting for an official ruling in 2018, this means that the DOJ is not going to make definitive laws surrounding websites and accessibility under the Trump administration. This is a significant legal setback for persons with disabilities, who have been fighting to have the same digital experiences as those without such disabilities. However, this announcement will not slow down the lawsuits and intense legal climate that many businesses have found themselves in. And, it will not change the ethical obligation that businesses should have to provide fair web experiences for all visitors. Learn what your business needs to know, now, to minimize lawsuits and maximize your website’s accessibility.
The lawsuits will continue
This recent DOJ announcement will not stop the lawsuits, or even slow them down. Instead, select law firms (aka ADA trolls) will continue to sue businesses throughout the nation, and judges will continue to take on the cases, fueled by the Peapod and H&R Block settlements as well as the extraordinary Statement of Interest in the Winn-Dixie case decision on June 13, 2017. In fact, since the Winn-Dixie case, the number of ADA troll letters has seemed to have accelerated, based on information that many of ZAG’s clients have shared.
Small and medium-sized businesses will suffer
This announcement hurts small-to-medium sized businesses and institutions more than larger ones. Big businesses have enough lawyers and money that typically they scare off smaller law firms, including many of the more common ADA trolling firms. But small-to-medium sized companies and institutions don’t typically have the resources to fight this type of battle, and often have to choose to simply pay the demand fee, which is often less than the court fees.
Businesses will be reacting rather than proactively planning
Having a fixed date to meet defined ADA website conformance standards would have allowed for businesses to adequately prepare and budget for the changes, rather than rush to counter a lawsuit or be ahead of a future one. It would also allow them the time to come to understand what being a conformant website really means, and why it’s so much more than checking issues off a punch list generated by a machine. Instead of designing and developing to embrace persons with disabilities as a valued customer, businesses will likely do the bare minimum to appease lawyers. In the end, this counters the original goal, which was a web for all.
Stay the course
For businesses who know the importance of ADA website compliance, this announcement is disappointing but should not change any plans you have. You still need to look into designing, building and testing your website against ADA conformance standards. Additionally, you need to work with a website ADA compliance expert to help you understand what the climate really is, what a conformant website is, and how to resource and plan your site accordingly. Whether you’ve recently gotten a demand letter from an ADA troll law firm, or you are looking to adhere to WCAG 2.0 standards because it’s the right thing to do, let’s talk about next steps.