There are 54 million disabled Americans, making up the third-largest market segment. And like their able-bodied counterparts, they shop, bank and carry on large portions of their lives online. Website owners should ensure that websites and apps are accessible by following accessibility best practices like coding for keyboard navigation and adding captions to videos.
In brick-and-mortar stores, title III of the American Disabilities Act (ADA) mandates ramps for mobility-impaired customers or braille signs for the visually impaired. Specifically, title three says that businesses open to the public, or places of public accommodation, cannot discriminate against people with disabilities.
In March 2022, the Department of Justice issued new guidance reaffirming that digital apps and websites are subject to the same guidelines. If a website is open to the public, it is a place of public accommodation under the ADA. When a website or app is not accessible, customers can bring an ADA-based lawsuit against the offending company.
Retail Companies Get the Most Lawsuits
In 2021, lawsuits against inaccessible apps and websites averaged around 10 cases daily. In 2022, ADA-based lawsuits for websites and apps are increasing quarter over quarter. Interestingly, the growth in ADA-based suits for digital is happening even as overall ADA-based cases for brick-and-mortar are reportedly decreasing. For example, during the early weeks of 2022, plaintiffs filed 100 lawsuits against companies for inaccessible digital properties. Based on the average filing rate at the end of June 2022, there may be as many as 4,455 ADA-based cases filed for websites and apps this year.
Ecommerce websites are among the hardest hit, making up 79% of all cases, surpassing all other industries. No ecommerce company, no matter the size, is immune. So far in 2022, 73% of lawsuits were against companies with less than $25M revenue. Likewise, many large retail companies have already received ADA-based digital suits. In 2022 alone, there have already been 50 cases filed against the Top 500 ecommerce retailers, and 417 of the top 500 retailers received ADA-based digital suits in the past four years.
What does all this data tell us? Simply put, in 2022, large and small companies are being called upon to make their website and apps accessible. For ecommerce companies, accessibility is critical, or you are at a higher risk of receiving a lawsuit.
So many of us shop online, from food to clothes, electronics to books. For some, it’s convenient; for others, it’s necessary. For specific mobility impairments, it may be impossible to travel outside regularly. So this consumer depends on timely and accessible online shopping options. Users know quickly when a website owner has not designed with accessibility best practices. Checking a website for accessibility can be as simple as checking the price of a sale item.
There is also a practical reason ecommerce is targeted more than other industries. Firstly, digital stores are easy to find and visit. For example, someone that is blind can surf the web and quickly assess websites for usability and accessibility. The ADA regulates retailers, and ecommerce websites are incredibly dynamic. With the rate of change and new releases standard in the industry, it can be almost too easy to make accessibility mistakes. Plaintiffs can find these mistakes, document them and add them to an ADA lawsuit.
Finally, many online retailers have offline stores familiar with the ADA, so legal counsel has a process to settle these claims. Most of the ADA-based app and web accessibility lawsuits resolve quickly and in the plaintiff’s favor.
Why Does it Matter?
As stated at the beginning of this piece, disabled people are the third-largest market segment. They account for $1 billion in the market, while their friends and family members make it $1 trillion. If a disabled user does not have a good experience on a website, they will tell their friends and family, who will likely stop using the site as well. An inaccessible website can not only impact a retailer’s revenue but also their reputation and overall community standing if the disabled user files a lawsuit.
What Can Companies Do?
If you want to improve your digital accessibility right now, we recommend the following four steps.
- Take an inventory of your websites, apps, PDFs and multimedia (including videos and podcasts)
- Run an automated test to look for easy-to-spot and high-risk accessibility issues
- Reach out to you your website team (internal or external) to have them fix the problems found during automated testing
- Perform user testing with people with disabilities, including those with visual disabilities who use screen readers, since that is who files the most lawsuits.
The last step that we mention here, employing testers from the disability community as part of your testing program, is critical. And a word of the wise, do not believe in accessibility shortcuts like widgets. To know if a website is accessible to people, you need real people to test it, not AI. Websites using accessibility widgets received 400 lawsuits from January to June 2022.
These four initial steps will enable you to fix high-risk issues and understand the current state of your digital presence. In addition, you’ll be better suited to avoid receiving an ADA-based lawsuit for digital accessibility. Then the real accessibility work can begin, with core remediation and building an awareness of digital accessibility and inclusion within your organization.
In 2022, private ADA-based lawsuits generate awareness of gaps in digital inclusion that companies present on their website. Until the U.S. Congress and the DOJ give website owners a clear set of guidelines to make websites accessible and comply with the ADA, lawsuits in this area will rise. A company’s best bet to avoid lawsuits is to get proactive about digital accessibility.
Jason C. Taylor is the Chief Innovation Strategist and Advisor to the UsableNet CEO with nearly 20 years of experience in usability and accessibility. He is a global technology leader for multichannel customer engagement, actively advising leading companies on how to extend their brands across multiple channels for all users. He has been an active member of the accessibility and usability communities since 2001, which started with leading partnerships between UsableNet, Macromedia (now Adobe) and The Nielsen Norman Group. Recent speaking engagements include the 2022 ICT Testing Symposium, CLE-credited Strafford Webinars, Neilsen Norman Group 1-hour talks, 2021 Digital Accessibility Legal Summit, 2021 Global AccessibilityPlus Conference and numerous other private corporate and continuing education engagements and training.