Accessibility, Accessible Solutions Crucial as ADA Lawsuits Continue to Rise

by: David Titmus

Website accessibility and other ADA Title III lawsuits are continuing to increase, according to a recent study by law firm Seyfarth Shaw. The firm reports that if ADA Title III federal lawsuit numbers continue to be filed at the current pace, 2018’s total will exceed 2017 by 30 percent, fueled in part by a continued uptick in website access suits.

According to Seyfarth, more than 4,900 federal ADA Title III lawsuits were filed in just the first six months of 2018, as compared to 7,663 filings in all of 2017. If the filings continue at this rate, there will be close to 10,000 ADA Title III lawsuits for all of 2018, representing a 30 percent increase over last year.

Sign Reading "The Same for Everyone"As a recent example, a federal judge in U.S. District Court for the District of Kansas ruled late last month that UPS Freight violated federal law by paying disabled drivers only 90 percent of what nondisabled drivers earn when they temporarily move to non-driving jobs.

The Seyfarth report also showed that plaintiffs filed more website accessibility lawsuits in federal court during the first six months of 2018 than in all of 2017, with more than 1,000 suits filed thus far this year as compared to 814 in 2017.

Adding to that total, a Florida man recently brought a class action website accessibility lawsuit against the NBA’s Miami Heat, alleging that the team’s online store contained digital barriers that prevented him from accessing the site’s content. The plaintiff uses screen reader software and other assistive technology to view the site.

Additionally, a federal appeals court recently overturned a lower court and ruled that a blind plaintiff could pursue an ADA lawsuit against Dunkin’ Donuts for allegedly having an inaccessible website.

The ADA and subsequent amendments give civil rights protections to individuals with disabilities similar to those provided to individuals based on race, color, sex, national origin, age, and religion. It assures equal opportunity for access to businesses, employment, transportation, state and local government programs and services, and telecommunications.

Title III of the ADA prohibits discrimination based on disability in places of public accommodation — businesses that are generally open to the public and that fall into one of 12 categories listed in the ADA, such as restaurants, recreational facilities, and movie theaters. Title III also requires newly constructed or altered places of public accommodation and commercial facilities to comply with the ADA standards.

Though the ADA and captioning don’t always necessarily go hand-in-hand, many companies, schools and universities, event centers, and government entities, just to name a few, employ captions to become and remain ADA compliant, and provide greater access to those who are deaf and hard of hearing (DHOH).

Website accessibility also is enforced though the ADA, with courts across the country routinely deciding that business websites are considered places of public accommodation and should, therefore, be held to the same ADA standards as their physical-location counterparts.

Companies interested in learning more about website accessibility and compliance can seek guidance from the ADA, which has created several tools that web developers can use when building and designing sites. Many of the ADA recommendations are easy to incorporate with little cost, such as the use of assistive technology like a ‘screen reader’ that helps blind individuals navigate websites by describing what is on the computer screen.

Those in the DHOH community also can use tools to better access online content, with the most common being closed captions. Adding captions to a webpage’s audio content — whether it be videos or streaming lectures — goes a long way to satisfying accessibility requirements and creates a better, more enjoyable experience for all online customers.

Click here to learn more about how VITAC can help in creating a more accessible online presence.