These days, ADA conformance is critical to website design and ensures your site is fully accessible to users with disabilities. More than 7 million people in the United States alone have a visual disability, representing a significant percentage of both the total population and your potential customer base. Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG guidelines) were introduced back in 1990 to provide standards to which websites should be designed and built so that those with visual disabilities, dyslexia and more can have a fair website experience.
Not long after, many sites in violation of current WCAG guidelines were slapped with costly lawsuits, including Domino’s Pizza in 2016. This case has been the subject of debate since a lower court ruled against Domino’s. In October 2019, the Supreme Court rejected Domino’s Pizza appeal. The significance of this case could set a precedent for website accessibility going forward, so it’s important to understand what it all means and how it could impact your website.
Robles v. Domino’s Pizza
In the case Robles v. Domino’s Pizza, a man with vision impairment sued the national pizza chain over alleged accessibility violations. Guillermo Robles claimed in the lawsuit that “Domino’s did not follow the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) because its website and app were not accessible to screen readers.” The case was dismissed at the district level, but Robles appealed, and the verdict was overturned. Domino’s fired back by appealing to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court refused to review the case, which can now proceed in federal district court. While Domino’s may still win, the lawsuit has cost the pizza chain time, money, and bad press. Notably, this could all have been avoided by investing in conformant design and development.
The fallout from the Supreme Court ruling
Through this case, the Supreme Court made it clear it isn’t interested in deciding on website accessibility. Historically, accessibility has been governed by legislation and the Department of Justice, which was on its way to establishing WCAG 2.0 as the law of the land until the 2016 administration change. A lack of definitive regulation in the years since has created a gray area for businesses. Companies and institutions hoped the Supreme Court might solve this by providing “relief and clarity to what has been chaotic legal regime resulting in an ever-ticking upwards onslaught of lawsuits against business,” according to the legal news outlet JD Supra. When the Supreme Court refused to hear the Domino’s case, it unfortunately resulted in more questions than answers.
The future of website accessibility rulings
Because of this, we may see an expansion of both the number of accessibility lawsuits and their locations. 2018 saw over 2,250 website accessibility-related lawsuits, with 2019 projected to exceed 2,400. New York and Florida have led the way in lawsuits, with Pennsylvania a distant third, according to the Chicago-based law firm Seyfarth Shaw LLP. With the Supreme Court stepping out, other federal courts may see additional lawsuits flooding in, impacting businesses that have so far been relatively unscathed.
Relief could also come in the form of direction from the executive branch. However, since this administration has been notoriously regulation averse, sweeping new regulation is unlikely until the next administration. That said, lawsuits would immediately tie up any effort to strike down website accessibility through something like an executive order.
While there has also been talk of Congress taking on the topic of website accessibility, this too seems unlikely. Previous attempts to address accessibility in Congress are either sitting in “introduced” status or have died in the Senate.
Ideally, the Department of Justice would step in again to create a comprehensive, meaningful update to ADA that encompasses not only website accessibility but also provides metrics through which to judge it and timelines for businesses to achieve compliance. The odds of this happening in the foreseeable future are slim.
What should businesses do without formal accessibility laws in place?
The absence of a clear mandate makes it imperative for your website to be fully accessible to the latest (WCAG 2.1 standards) as part of your next site redesign. You may be able to assert that your current site is not conformant because it was built before the latest WCAG guidelines were established and website ADA became such a topic of debate, but that argument will not hold up when it comes time to a site redesign. Your website designers and developers must be trained and certified in website accessibility so they can create a site that caters to both fully abled visitors and those with disabilities.
If a redesign isn’t in your immediate future or current budget, consider a website ADA audit and remediation plan. It may not make your site fully conformant, but proactively completing an audit and implementing changes shows good faith attempts to address potential problems, creating an improved experience for visitors.
Beyond an accessible website
It’s not enough to have an accessible website; it’s also important to make mobile apps fully accessible, as evidenced in the Robles v. Domino’s Pizza case. Many people with disabilities use iPhone and Android devices to navigate the web due to their baked-in accessibility and easy-to-use touchscreen navigation. If you have a mobile application, you need to ensure the next version conforms to WCAG 2.1 standards as well, since this is all part of your visitors’ digital experience.
While ADA conformance may be an unexpected cost of doing digital business these days, it creates a fair and inclusive experience for all audiences and can prove hugely beneficial in the long run. Consult the experts at ZAG to learn more about accessibility and what it means for your website.
Disclaimer: This article has been prepared by ZAG Interactive to provide information of interest to our readers. It is not intended to provide legal advice. Please consult your own legal or compliance team for specific questions and concerns.