Last spring, I was approached by my local chapter of the Legal Marketing Association about presenting alongside attorney Dana Hoffman of Young Moore on the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and its application to law firm website design. The presentation was fun and informative, and I was honored shortly thereafter the opportunity to expand the focus for an audience of litigators at the 2017 Defense Research Institute’s Retail and Hospitality Conference in Chicago. I’ll be presenting on this topic this Friday alongside Amy Richardson of Harris Wiltshire & Grannis. Amy has worked on both the litigation and government enforcement sides of this issue and we’re both looking forward to talking with attorneys representing clients across the business spectrum on this interesting topic.
Poorly designed websites can create unnecessary barriers for people with disabilities, just as poorly designed buildings prevent some people with disabilities from entering. Access problems often occur because website designers mistakenly assume that everyone sees and accesses a webpage in the same way. This mistaken assumption can frustrate assistive technologies and their users. Accessible website design recognizes these differences and does not require people to see, hear, or use a standard mouse in order to access the information and services provided.
Government Code §11546.7 – The requirement that state agency heads certify, every two years, that their agency’s website meets the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, Version 2.0 or a subsequent version, at Level AA or higher, and the requirements of Sections 11135 and 7405 of the Government Code. Created by AB 434 (Baker, Chapter 780, Statutes of 2017), and sometimes referred to as AB 434.
The Trump administration’s DOJ had previously promised to begin using WCAG 2.0 as its formal standard for web accessibility. However, the DOJ recently included this action as part of the department’s “inactive list,” which means that it’s not likely to be adopted in the near future. As a result, a clear standard to judge an organizations’ web accessibility will continue to be interpreted, and the number of ADA website lawsuits is not expected to slow down any time soon.
Access Now v. Southwest Airlines was a case where the District Court decided that the website of Southwest Airlines was not in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, because the ADA is concerned with things with a physical existence and thus cannot be applied to cyberspace. Judge Patricia A. Seitz found that the "virtual ticket counter" of the website was a virtual construct, and hence not a "public place of accommodation." As such, "To expand the ADA to cover 'virtual' spaces would be to create new rights without well-defined standards."
There are many ways to discriminate against people based on disabilities, including psychological ones. Anyone known to have a history of mental disorders can be considered disabled. Employers with more than 15 employees must take care to treat all employees fairly and with any accommodations needed. Even when an employee is doing a job exceptionally well, she or he is not necessarily no longer disabled; employers must continue to follow all policies for the disabled.
The debate over the Americans with Disabilities Act led some religious groups to take opposite positions. The Association of Christian Schools International, opposed the ADA in its original form. primarily because the ADA labeled religious institutions "public accommodations", and thus would have required churches to make costly structural changes to ensure access for all. The cost argument advanced by ACSI and others prevailed in keeping religious institutions from being labeled as "public accommodations".
For Avanti Hotel to address the issue and make its website ADA compliant, it will cost around $3,000. However, oftentimes businesses must pay damages to the plaintiff on top of making the fix. In this particular case, the settlement is expected to be between $8,000-13,000. If the owner chooses to fight, damages plus lawyer fees could put him at more than $25,000. This is a heavy burden for a small business.