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So Many Web Accessibility Lawsuits: Action You Should & Shouldn’t Take

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed 27 years ago. A law based upon good intention, it’s now being hijacked to spread fear and suspicion. The recent Winn-Dixie ADA case gives lawyers an instruction manual for successful litigation that is causing fear among retailers. As Ken Nakata has said in a past blog, the Court’s decision is well-reasoned and contains generally good advice that all retailers should follow. But that doesn’t stop fear from taking root and blossoming.

Cue the drive-by lawsuits.

The ADA was intended to spread equal access throughout the nation, and many individuals have successfully used this law to drive positive change. In most states, the legal consequences are limited to remediation of the problem area, along with legal fees. Some states, such as California with their Unruh Act, add monetary penalties up to $4,000 per individual violation. As the law moves over into the online realm, technology makes it easier for the unscrupulous to take advantage of uncertain legal guidance and fear of litigation.

It has become so easy for law firms and agencies to target any organization that happens to have a website, organizations tend to reach toward whatever seems to be a quick fix.

There are businesses out there who use freely-available automated scanning tools to identify website accessibility postures and then threaten litigation. These threats often come in the form of ADA demand letters or Office of Civil Rights (OCR) complaints, and they frequently come associated with recommendations to “qualified” remediation or consulting companies. If the business uses such a “qualified” partner, the law firm will drop the suit.

Quick Remediation doesn’t protect against another lawsuit.

A website is a living thing, subject to change with new content and even with a different user, so a quick fix is no protection against another lawsuit. And remediating an existing website to become 100% WCAG 2.0 AA compliant can be expensive. We have seen some companies come to us for help after being threatened with lawsuits several times and also had customers who invested in automating web compliance only as a token effort to prevent lawsuits. Many such companies end up being sued several times before really examining what web accessibility means to the end user.

A better way is here.

Do not allow those drive-by threats from hungry agencies to scare you into an immediate pay-out. Don’t get me wrong – you do need to make your website accessible, but that drive-by lawsuit isn’t always based on a real problem. The automated tool used to rapidly generate errors is helpful in teaching how to repair a website, but an automated report is not enough for a prosecutor to win a lawsuit. Your first step should be to request more information to find out the exact complaint an individual with a disability has raised against your website.