Growing Numbers of Accessibility Lawsuits
Trends in Legal Action
Due to the rapid increase in telecommunication use, more and more web accessibility lawsuits are being filed in federal court. According to a recent analysis by an international legal firm Seyfarth Shaw, 814 lawsuits pertaining to web accessibility were filed in 2017. In 2018, that number jumped dramatically, with at least 1,053 lawsuits pertaining to web accessibility filed in the first six months of the year. This excludes the number of of complaints which also result in legal proceedings. At this rate, we expect to see web accessibility lawsuits and complaints continue to intensify in the coming years.
Precedent for Businesses Large and Small
These lawsuits have been filed due to violations of Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act. Not only are lawsuits being brought against small businesses and organizations, but legal action has also been taken against the Department of Homeland Security and the Social Security Administration as well. Essentially, no one is untouchable; if your organization has a website, you’re at risk of being not in compliance with set standards.
Past Cases in Web Accessibility Law Matters
In 2006, Disability Rights Advocates represented the National Federation of the Blind and three blind plaintiffs in a lawsuit. The defendant was not your average small business; in fact, they were quite well-known: Target Corporation. The lawsuit claimed that Target had an inaccessible website, which prevented blind individuals, who rely on the use of assistive technology, from using its online services. As a result of the lawsuit, Target made their website accessible for people with a wide range of disabilities and ensured assistive technologies such as screen reader software programs were compatible with their website. The court ruled that commercial websites are required to be accessible under ADA and state laws.
Target wasn’t the only large corporation hit with a lawsuit in recent years. In 2014, the Department of Justice (DOJ) filed a Complaint in Intervention on a case between the Federation of the Blind and H & R Block. The complaint states that H & R Block’s website prevents individuals with disabilities from independently preparing and filing their taxes online. A settlement was agreed upon and H & R Block was ordered to ensure their website and mobile applications conform to WCAG standards.
Historically, the DOJ has taken varying approaches to address such lawsuits; however, they have made it clear that web accessibility is expected and mandated, as listed in the ADA. Time and time again, the DOJ has entered into settlements, mandating that websites comply with WCAG standards.