That’s good news if you are one of the many Americans who have a visual, hearing, or mobility disability that makes it difficult to access some information on the web. If you are a business owner who hasn’t made provisions to ensure that your website and other online assets are ADA compliant, you could be looking at a host of legal and financial penalties.
The ADA provides explicit coverage for service animals. Guidelines have been developed not only to protect persons with disabilities but also to indemnify businesses from damages related to granting access to service animals on their premises. Businesses are allowed to ask if the animal is a service animal and ask what tasks it is trained to perform, but they are not allowed to ask the service animal to perform the task nor ask for a special ID of the animal. They cannot ask what the person's disabilities are. A person with a disability cannot be removed from the premises unless either of two things happen: the animal is out of control and its owner cannot get it under control (e.g. a dog barking uncontrollably in a restaurant), or the animal is a direct threat to people's health and safety. Allergies and fear of animals would not be considered a threat to people's health and safety, so it would not be a valid reason to deny access to people with service animals. Businesses that prepare or serve food must allow service animals and their owners on the premises even if state or local health laws otherwise prohibit animals on the premises. In this case, businesses that prepare or serve food are not required to provide care or food for service animals, nor do they have to provide a designated area for the service animal to relieve itself. Lastly, people that require service dogs cannot be charged an extra fee for their service dog or be treated unfairly, for example, being isolated from people at a restaurant. People with disabilities cannot be treated as "less than" other customers. However, if a business normally charges for damages caused by the person to property, the customer with a disability will be charged for his/her service animal's damages to the property.
It makes sense that everyone should have equal access to websites and online properties. The Internet has become an integral part of our lives, where we go to shop, learn, do our banking, and socialize. The DOJ hasn’t determined what the final set of regulations for ADA compliant websites will be yet, but there are established guidelines and standards of accessibility that can be viewed on the ADA website. Once a website meets these accessibility standards it qualifies as ADA compliant.
Case law has been the most helpful in illuminating the implications of the ADA for websites.There have been lawsuits involving companies like Expedia, Hotels.com, Southwest Airlines, and Target as defendants and primarily featuring accessibility organizations as plaintiffs. These cases had mixed results, but each helped clarify the ADA's jurisdiction on the web.
In recent cases, the U.S. Department of Justice has repeatedly sided with plaintiffs arguing that a private company’s website needs to be accessible, despite any other mitigating factors. One thing is for certain, however: The number of federal lawsuits alleging violations of the ADA is currently accelerating at a rapid pace. Between January and August 2017, there were 432 ADA lawsuits filed in federal court—more than the total number of ADA lawsuits in 2015 and 2016 combined.