It seems that hardly a week passes without a new ADA compliance lawsuit making headlines. What is it about the Americans with Disabilities Act and the evolution of the Internet that is inspiring so many lawsuits? The “short answer” to this question is relatively straightforward: Many websites run by businesses in the United States are not yet ADA compliant. However, the “long answer” to this question is not so simple.
Without Clear Guidance, Compliance Lawsuits Will Continue
When a business is interested in building a new structure, they generally can’t do so before they’ve secured proper permits. The permit process helps to ensure that businesses comply with local, state, and federal codes and allows the government significant oversight into certain major decisions made by businesses interested in constructing new structures. No such proactive oversight exists when it comes to building websites. If a business owner is interested in creating a website for their company, they can do so without filing any paperwork with the government whatsoever. There are pros and cons to this lack of proactive oversight. Certainly, businesses benefit from the freedom to create sites and content without much oversight. However, they also aren’t always aware when they’re violating the law because they didn’t have to “jump through hoops” designed to ensure that new sites are compliant with all existing laws and regulations before they launch. Ultimately, businesses must abide by a host of rules and regulations concerning their websites – they’re just free to create and publish them without any oversight on the “front end” of things.
As a result of this lack of proactive oversight and initial regulatory requirements, many business websites are operating in various ways that violate the law. One of the most common legal violations that American business owners are currently grappling with is non-compliance with the ADA. The Americans with Disabilities Act has been in effect for nearly 30 years. 30 years ago, few Americans regularly interacted with the Internet, let alone depended on it for a myriad of their personal and business needs. Our society has evolved dramatically over the past 30 years, even if the original text of the ADA has not. It is therefore not always easy to understand how the ADA’s broad protections are meant to be applied to business conducted on the Internet.
Unfortunately, as this area of law is still evolving, businesses aren’t always aware that their sites are non-compliant – and even when they are aware that their sites aren’t broadly accessible to users with disabilities, many remain unsure of how to fix these challenges. As a result, more and more businesses are being sued by users with disabilities because these users have real concerns about accessibility. And until crystal clear guidance is provided concerning exactly how the ADA applies to business sites, these concerns are likely to remain catalysts for legal action against companies who unintentionally maintain sites that are non-compliant with the ADA.