ADA Accessibility for a Small Business Website

ADA Accessibility for a Small Business Website

ADA accessibility assistive keyboard
Of the population has an impairment
Of disabled visitors leave an inaccessible website
Of websites are inaccessible
Increase in lawsuits since 2018
Of websites sued more than once

Websites & ADA Accessibility

Accessibility is a hot topic in 2021. Of course we would all like our sites to be accessible by everyone. Everyone should be able to fully benefit from use of the internet, right? But with the range of disabilities, assistive devices and software currently in use, it becomes a challenge to make our websites work for everyone.

Equal Access

Most importantly, the internet should be accessible by everyone. Most of us enjoy the convenience of online shopping, e-banking, food delivery apps, and even online healthcare services. But people with disabilities don’t necessarily have that same access. Aside from the fact that making your website compliant is good business and the right thing to do, the disability community is a brand-loyal community with tremendous buying power.

Buying power of U.S. disabled population

The Challenge for Business Website Owners

Web accessibility standards are complex, none of the popular content management systems like WordPress are compliant with them out of the box, and manually coding a website to make it meet those standards — called manual “remediation” — is time-consuming and very expensive, into the tens of thousands for some sites and beyond the budget of most small business owners.

Making a website easily usable for anyone with any disability — visual impairments, hearing difficulties, deafness, cognitive and motor impairments, language and learning disabilities — means making it usable by any of the assistive devices or software the site visitor might be using. It has to check a lot of boxes.

Accessibility Laws Affecting California

Here’s a quick history of how the laws have evolved for us in California to now, beginning in 50s. But keep in mind that the cause of website accessibility is advancing internationally, and newer accessibility laws being enacted elsewhere don’t protect Californians from lawsuits originating out of state.

  • State of California logo1959 – California’s Unruh Civil Rights Act
    Protects people with disabilities from discrimination by most business establishments, including housing and public establishments. Originally intended for brick-and-mortar establishments but now includes virtual businesses as well.
  • 1973 – Rehabilitation Act
    Prohibited the discrimination of people with disabilities to provide equal access to public transportation, telephones, bathrooms, and buildings.
  • ADA gov Dept of Justice1990 – Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Title III
    Prohibits discrimination in the workplace. Title III requires places of public accommodations and commercial facilities, like restaurants, movie theaters, and doctors’ offices, to be accessible.
  • 1992 – Unruh Act Amendment
    Any violation of the ADA is also a violation of the Unruh Act. Allows for plaintiffs to claim up to 3x in damages (including emotional distress) per incident, with a minimum of $4,000 in statutory damages. Protects all Californians no matter where the business is based.
  • W3C Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) logo1994 – World Wide Web Consortium (W3C)
    founded at MIT’s Laboratory for Computer Science. Their members began developing best web accessibility practices.
  • 1998 – Section 508
    Requires Federal agencies to make electronic and information technology equally accessible to people with disabilities
  • 1999 – Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 1.0
    published by W3C
  • 2008 – WCAG 2.0
    published by W3C
  • 2010 – Americans with Disabilities Act Standards for Accessible Design
    Mandates that all electronic and information technology be accessible to those with disabilities.
  • 2017 – Section 508 Revision
    Section 508 logoFormally established the WCAG as the accessibility framework that federal agencies should use.
  • 2018 – WCAG 2.1 Guidelines, the current standard, released
  • 2018 – Section 508 Revision
    DOJ clarified that websites are considered places of public accommodation and should therefore comply with the ADA Title III. US courts refer to WCAG 2.1 Level AA as the international accessibility standard.

Risks For Small Businesses

Since WCAG compliance is a topic most small business owners have never heard of, they are vulnerable to threat letters and lawsuits initiated by disabled people who aren’t able to use their websites. Bewildered business owners still recovering from the effects of the pandemic are becoming aware of the risk, but even with the best intentions once they are aware of the problem, the fix isn’t easy and it can be so expensive that it can close a business down.

“Some critics called this wave of web accessibility lawsuits “legal extortion,” As plaintiff lawyers leverage the fact that often small businesses, like mom and pop stores, don’t realize they are doing anything wrong and are left to settle for between $20,000 and $50,000.

Web accessibility lawsuits and demand letters

To begin with, the cost of defending such lawsuits can be crushing, even for a medium business that does have a sizable budget. At the end of the day, meeting a settlement agreement for an average of $35,000 and committing to fixing your site accessibility issues in order to become ADA compliant seems much more affordable than the risk of fighting in court and facing huge fines and attorneys’ fees.

Unfortunately, this trend also exposes business owners who are sued under the ADA complaint to pay the plaintiff huge compensations in the concept of damages, instead of giving them the opportunity to fix the site.

The implications of these findings are clear: lack of accessibility has become a major liability for any company operating on the web today.” — AccessiBe

Lawsuits in the News

How your small business website can get you sued —Philadelphia Inquirer

Lawsuits Over Digital Accessibility for People With Disabilities Are Rising —Wall Street Journal

How your small business website can get you sued —Philadelphia Inquirer

How your small business website can get you sued —Philadelphia Inquirer

Spate of ADA lawsuits hits hundreds of local businesses still reeling from the pandemic

Lawsuits hit hundreds of local businesses still reeling from pandemic —Mountain View Voice

Out-of-state law firm blitzes companies in Colorado with “drive-by” ADA lawsuits —Denver Post

Out-of-state law firm blitzes companies in Colorado with “drive-by” ADA lawsuits —Denver Post

Businesses ‘sitting ducks’ for lawsuits because websites aren’t ADA compliant

Businesses ‘sitting ducks’ for lawsuits because websites aren’t ADA compliant —WFLA Florida

Attorney sues dozens of Peninsula businesses over ADA violations —

Supreme Court hands victory to blind man who sued Domino’s over site accessibility —CNBC

Lawsuits Affecting Our Small Business Clients

A client of ours was recently threatened with a legal demand for $8500 for noncompliance with WCAG. We were able to work with our client’s attorney and get the threat withdrawn, but it required weeks of work, manual remediation (technical coding) on the site that we were able to do ourselves, and several rounds of communication with both attorneys.

Another client got notified that eight of her colleagues had been sued over noncompliance with WCAG.

How to Meet Accessibility Standards

Because of the variety of disabilities addressed in the standards, requirements for compliance are complex and stringent. We’re in the business of building websites that are marketing machines, that help our clients attract business. Meeting ADA standards while also meeting the current standard for an effective, competitive business marketing website can be challenging.

Of course, we would all like to make all websites ADA compliant. But we don’t have a magic wand to wave to make that happen, or even the means to implement the perfect solution for soloprenuers, small and medium businesses without multimillion dollar budgets. So we naturally start being motivated more by fear of lawsuits than altruism. Here are the options as we see them:

Take Your Website Down

As your marketing home base, your website is essential. No small business owner can do without a website, and that doesn’t serve the disabled community any better anyway, because then your services are invisible online.

Build Two Versions of Your Website

Create a standard marketing website that works for the majority of people who visit your site. Then create a second version that meets the WCAG 2.0 Level AA for disabled site visitors and keep it maintained at that level. Think $$$$$$.

Hire an ADA Compliance Company for Manual Remediation

Web accessibility “remediation” is the process of manually changing the code of websites to make them compatible with WCAG guidelines. This is an expense small businesses generally can’t absorb, because the process can take weeks of work by an accessibility expert and cost tens of thousands of dollars. Then there is ongoing expense to keep your site accessible. Every update to your website or to browsers can break that coding and create a need for more remediation work.

Install a Free Accessibility Plugin

The available free accessibility plugins for WordPress only meet about 20% of the WCAG requirements and aren’t even remotely close to what is required. So you’ll still be wide open to complaints.

Use an AI Machine Learning Overlay Widget

We are not attorneys. But fortunately, we have accessibility experience going back to the 90s, so we understand the technology challenges and we’ve studied the available options for small business owners.

The truth is that there is no perfect solution. Any solution short of manual remediation — constructing a custom coded website — is not 100% foolproof for disabled site visitors with a huge variety of needs for every possible element that can exist on a website.

But after reviewing the available solutions we now have a solution on our own site that we recommend for clients. We also include the software in our top tier website maintenance plan.

Get Accessibility Assistance As Part of Our Executive Maintenance Plan

Along with other benefits of this maintenance plan, we cover the ongoing expense of an accessibility overlay tool. You receive:

  • Overlay widget tool on your site for people with a variety of disabilities
  • Monthly scans of your site
  • Monthly WCAG compliance statement
  • Our support to manage the subscription and software