Q: What legal accessibility considerations should I keep in mind when operating my organization’s website?
A: People normally think about the Americans with Disability Act (“ADA”) with respect to its requirement that physical spaces be made accessible to all. You can see examples of this every time you go outside: wheelchair ramps, audio cues for crosswalk signals, braille displays on signs, etc. As more commercial and social activities have been taking place online in recent years, however, digital spaces are increasingly being held to the same accessibility standards. If you or your organization operate a website, it is important to consider how accessible elements of your website are in order to avoid a potential disability discrimination claim.
The potential for such a discrimination claim is not abstract or theoretical. In 2019, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a court ruling that allowed blind individuals to sue Domino’s Pizza on the basis that Domino’s website did not have the proper software to allow blind individuals to read and communicate with the website. In other words, a barrier preventing a disabled person from accessing a website is the same as a barrier at a brick-and-mortar location under the ADA.
Similarly, the U.S. Department of Justice (the “DOJ”) has recently entered into settlement agreements with several companies that address accessibility barriers on those companies’ websites. Examples of website accessibility barriers are numerous, but some examples include: lack of alternative text (“alt text”) for website images, lack of captions on videos, or use of colors that cannot be differentiated by people who are color-blind.
Last year, the DOJ also issued guidance on what website owners can do to help make their websites accessible to people with disabilities. For example, the DOJ recommended that websites should have appropriate labels and explanations that are readable by screen-reader technology. The DOJ also suggested that websites should allow users to navigate with a keyboard rather than a mouse. Websites should also include a way to report accessibility issues so that they can be addressed promptly.
Making sure that your website is accessible not only helps avoid legal liability, but comes with the added benefit of making your website a more welcoming space for all users and customers.
ADA compliance and related issues can be highly fact-dependent as well as technically and legally complex. If you find yourself involved in a situation involving these issues, you should consult an attorney for guidance.
Know the Law is a bi-weekly column sponsored by McLane Middleton. Questions and ideas for future columns should be emailed to [email protected]. Know the Law provides general legal information, not legal advice. We recommend that you consult a lawyer for guidance specific to your particular situation.