Federal Web Accessibility Lawsuits Nearly Triple In 2018


  • January 14, 2019
  • /   Hunter Clayton
  • /   Industry News,Accessibility
A pen and gavel placed on a notice of lawsuit on a desk.

Accessibility is a delicate issue that has affected business owners for decades, and the hard truth is that accessibility standards are only increasing. In the past, accessibility only applied to physical barriers such as wheelchair ramps and elevators; However, in recent years website accessibility has become a barrier for impaired individuals as well. The 2017 Gil vs. Winn-Dixie stores Inc. decision was a monumental lawsuit in which Juan Carlos Gil, a visually impaired person, sued and won because he was unable to access Winn-Dixie’s website. This verdict set the standard that not only must businesses and government entities comply with the ADA regarding their physical locations, but they must also accommodate impaired individuals on the internet as well (Rumas, adotlabs.com).

WEB ACCESSIBILITY LAWSUITS ON THE RISE

Since the 2017 decision, federal web accessibility lawsuits have increased at an alarming rate: from 814 in 2017 to 2,285 in 2018 illustrating a 181% increase in 2018 (Taylor, 2018). Alone, the number of federal lawsuits is shocking, but in addition to federal there are also state lawsuits and lawsuits that settled without going to trial. While there is no way to know the exact amount of these lawsuits, it could be assumed that, in total, web accessibility lawsuits may have affected thousands of more companies.

Graphic showing the increase in web accesibility lawsuits from 2017 to 2018 was over 180%

(Source: Usablenet.com)


In Addition, 96% of all lawsuits were filed in either New York or Florida (Taylor, 2018). While this may lead some to believe that New York and Florida are the only states affected, the reality is that these lawsuits affect all states and even other countries such as France and Japan.

Graphic showing the top targeted states for lawsuit by percentage. New York - 25%, California - 10%, Florida - 7%, Texas - 6%, Pennsylvania - 4%, Ohio - 4%, New Jersey - 3%, Massachusetts - 3%, Georgia - 2%, Connecticut - 2%
(Source: Usablenet.com)

 INDUSTRIES BEING AFFECTED

While almost all industries are being affected by web accessibility, the retail, food service, and travel/hospitality industries are being targeted at a much higher rate (Taylor, 2018). We presume that the main reason these industries are being targeted more than others is because business owners in these industries are the least likely to have the ability, time, or resources to fight a lawsuit. The law firms filing the majority of these accessibility lawsuits have adopted a tactic of targeting the “low-hanging fruit” first before moving on to larger businesses. While this tactic has certainly been effective, a lawsuit of which the average payout is $50,000 can be catastrophic for small to medium-sized business owners.

NO END IN SIGHT

            Because of the Department of Justice’s reluctance to set clear standards for web accessibility, and because of business owners’ slow rate of adoption, these types of lawsuits will continue and are almost guaranteed to increase in 2019 and subsequent years. Even though the future seems uncertain, there are several steps business owners can take to give themselves a fighting chance when a lawsuit does happen:

1) Immediately become proactive by reaching out to your web developer or a web accessibility service to see if you are currently accessible, or what your options in moving towards web accessibility may be.

2) Familiarize yourself with the Americans with Disabilities Act and the WCAG 2.1 guidelines for web accessibility.

3) Immediately create and enact an action plan to bring your website up to WCAG 2.1 standards and continue to be proactive in updating and keeping your website accessible to all impaired individuals.


Works Cited

Taylor, Jason. “Usablenet Blog.” 2018 ADA Web Accessibility Lawsuit Recap Report [BLOG], 26 Dec. 2018, blog.usablenet.com/2018-ada-web-accessibility-lawsuit-recap-report?utm_campaign=2018 ADA Web Accessibility Lawsuit Recap Report

“Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1.” Same Origin Policy - Web Security, Reuters Limited, 5 June 2018, www.w3.org/TR/WCAG21/.

                “Featured Topics.” ADA Requirements: Service Animals, www.ada.gov/.

Dumas, Renea. “News Detail.” News Detail | Adot Labs, www.adotlabs.com/news-detail/gil-v-winn-dixie.