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Website accessibility lawsuits in the United States are becoming more common.  Website compliance standards are relatively new; at the very least, enforcement of these standards is just beginning to impact site owners.
In fact, industry analysts note that the number of web accessibility lawsuits brought by the federal Government has grown 19.8% this year and that retailers account for 73.7% of digital accessibility lawsuits.
If you’re found to violate ADA compliance, your first violation may result in a penalty of $55,000 to $75,000. Subsequent violations can result in a $150,000 fine.
Creating or updating a site to reach the point of accessibility must be a priority for site owners.

Including Those With Disabilities

 

How To Include People With Disabilities

Changing Our Culture & Priorities

⇓ ⇑ Communicate from the top that all people, including people with disabilities, have value and are respected and openly welcomed.

This may seem obvious but making the extra effort as it pertains to people with disabilities is important. It should be part of the organizational DNA. Your senior leadership, and staff need to be explicit about the importance of fully including people with disabilities. Websites and all other materials should clearly communicate that disability inclusion is a part of the organization’s vision, mission, and values. It should be an intentional consideration at every stage, not merely assumed or tacked on as an afterthought. Inclusion of all people should be a core consideration of policies, budgets, staffing, recruiting, and planning. Organizations should regularly and repeatedly state that people of all races, ages, abilities, sexual identities, gender orientations, faiths, and other backgrounds are welcomed. These declarations can be made out loud by leadership as well as in publications and on social media. It also must be clear in both word and deed that should the organization or any of its employees, events, or materials make anyone feel unwelcome or inequitably treated, they want to know about it right away, and it will be addressed. (And then of course, follow through on that promise).

⇓ ⇑ Acknowledge, understand, and embrace the widespread nature of disability. Disability touches every demographic category – gender, age, race, sexual orientation, etc. and impacts most people eventually through accident, illness or aging.

56 million Americans have a disability. When you include the loved ones of people with disabilities, according to polls. the size of the extended disability community is 63 percent of Americans. Some people have disabilities from birth, while others acquire them due to accident, aging, injury, or illness. Certain disabilities are obvious because they require use of a wheelchair or have noticeable physical attributes. However, most disabilities, including those related to learning, attention, mental health, or chronic pain, are invisible and many people with invisible disabilities are still “in the closet” due to stigma. For example, it may not be apparent to you that a longtime board member or large donor is hiding progressive hearing or vision loss, or that a coworker lives with depression, anxiety, or chronic pain. Keep this in mind when considering inclusive practices, as they matter as much for your board room and your office as for public events. Remember that each grant you make, every program you manage, and all events your organization holds or supports are likely to touch people with disabilities. For groups focusing their good work on marginalized populations, this is particularly important. While disability impacts people of all backgrounds, people with multiple marginalized identities (i.e. people of color and/or English language learners who also have a disability) face double discrimination. They are more likely to experience homelessness, live in poverty, or become incarcerated. By incorporating best practices for intersectional issues, you are more likely to increase your success and theirs. out loud by leadership as well as in publications and on social media. It also must be clear in both word and deed that should the organization or any of its employees, events, or materials make anyone feel unwelcome or inequitably treated, they want to know about it right away, and it will be addressed. (And then of course, follow through on that promise).

⇓ ⇑ Walk the walk (or roll the roll) and help your grantees and members do the same.

You would not fund programs or sponsor events that deny access to women or people of color and the same should be true for discrimination against people with disabilities. Just one out of five organizations (20 percent) represented in our survey ask their grantees or members to include people with disabilities in their work. Funders can make a big impact by encouraging or requiring that organizations intentionally include the 1-in-5 people who live with some form of disability, by making their work accessible and by helping them budget accordingly.

⇓ ⇑ Make sure people with disabilities are part of the solution.

People with disabilities are ready to contribute their lived experiences to problem-solving and deserve a seat at the table. Because one out of every four adults in America has a disability (including physical, sensory, cognitive, mental health, or other disabilities), it should be a part of your practice to make sure the disability population is represented in leadership and throughout the staff. Our research shows that doing so is a key component to doing better on disability issues across the board. People with disabilities have valuable insight and experience to share as it pertains to disability inclusion (as well as to every other issue apart from disability). Just like when organizations take on issues that affect people of different racial, ethnic, or other backgrounds, people with disabilities should be involved in working on matters that impact them.

Use your Internet storefront & social media to communicate with appropriate language

⇓ ⇑ Send an inclusive message in your communication

Websites and social media are the equivalent of a storefront or lobby. And while no organization wants a person who is deaf or blind to walk in only to be turned away with no attempt to communicate, this happens often at the digital front door. For example, just 14 percent of social sector organizations represented in our survey are producing video content with captions for hard of hearing viewers, even though it often is free and easy to do. Only 17 percent say their websites are set up properly to work with screen readers to make materials accessible to those with low vision. There also is a significant gap in making sure that the content itself sends an inclusive message. Here are a few simple steps to ensure both personal and digital communications convey inclusive values:

  1. Use appropriate language and etiquette. Two good rules to keep in mind are 1) to always err on the side of language that does not paint disability as inherently negative, and 2) “Ask the Person.” Notwithstanding any style guide, the most important indicator of respectful language is that you honor the preference of the individual with whom you are speaking. The use of certain words or phrases can express bias unintentionally. In all of your communication, try to use appropriate terminology. Some helpful hints:
    1. Refer to people respectfully and how they want. For example, many people withdisabilities prefer “people-first language,” which respects human beings and their strengths, rather than defining them by their disabilities. An example of people-first language is referring to a child with Down syndrome by his or her name, not the “Down syndrome kid.” People-first language puts the focus back on the people, not on the disability. On the other hand, some within the Deaf community prefer the term “Deaf person” as opposed to “person who is deaf” and some people with low or no vision prefer the term “blind.” Among people on the Autism spectrum, some prefer to be called Autistic people or Autistics rather that people with Autism because they consider their disabilities to be inseparable parts of who they are. Just as you may ask people for their gender pronoun preferences, you should ask people with disabilities how they prefer to be identified.
    2. Use the word “disability.” Terms like “physically challenged,” “special” and “differently-abled” are seen by some as patronizing. While such terms may seem to equate disabilities with positive qualities, many people see them as needlessly euphemistic, and frequently such words are not used by the people to whom they refer. In addition, people with disabilities are protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act; people with “special needs” are not.
    3. Think about other language you use. Similar to terminology used with regard to race and sexuality, what is considered acceptable language about disability has changed over time. Words that once were widely used now are considered to be offensive, have negative connotations, or imply inferiority. Other terms are outdated medical or colloquial. Avoid such words as “handicapped,” “suffers from,” “crippled,” or “wheelchair-bound.” A wheelchair is a tool of liberation that allows a person who would not otherwise be able to move around to have relative freedom. Similarly, disability is a fact of life and, like other facts of life, sometimes can have unpleasant consequences. Just as you would never say someone “suffers from a family” even though they may suffer when a loved one gets hurt or dies, it is inappropriate to refer to the fact of disability as a form of suffering just because it has the potential to lead to suffering like so much else in life. Some other words and phrases to avoid:
      1. People without disabilities are not “normal.” Saying “normal” implies that people with disabilities are “abnormal.” While people without disabilities often are referred to as “able-bodied,” some members of the disability community oppose that usage because it implies that all people living with disabilities lack “able bodies.” Instead, use the term “nondisabled,” “does not have a disability” or “is not living with a disability.” In some cases, the word “typical” can be used to describe a nondisabled condition.
      2. People with disabilities should not automatically be described as “inspirational” or “courageous” just because they have a disability. Using those words can lead to what some refer to as “inspiration porn,” which assumes that disability itself is so terrible that the mere act of living a normal life with a disability is inspirational. Like anything that turns another human being into a simplified foil or object of pity, the ultimate result is to deny the complex humanity of the person with a disability.
      3. Other terms to avoid can be found in this companion piece to the National Center on Disability and Journalism’s Style Guide: http://ncdj.org/2015/09/terms-to-avoid-when-writing-about-disability.
    4. Use the Disability Language Style Guide and related resources. For more on this topic, The National Center on Disability and Journalism (NCDJ) provides the industry’s only disability language style guide. The guide is intended for journalists, communication professionals and members of the general public who are seeking the appropriate and accurate language to use when writing or talking about people living with disabilities. It covers general terms and words on physical disabilities, hearing and visual impairments, mental and cognitive disabilities and seizure disorders. Please note that many of the language suggestions used by RespectAbility in this report and elsewhere are based on these NCDJ guidelines: http://ncdj.org/style-guide.
  2. Ensure your communications are accessible. Using captions on all audio and video files and making websites that work with screen readers allows the millions of people with hearing difficulties and low vision to have access to your material. Adding text descriptions, often called “alt text” or “alternative text,” to charts, graphs, images and maps so they are discernible by assistive technology is important as well. Other ways to make online content more accessible include using a site index and adding descriptions for materials presented visually. Conduct usability studies for your websites to verify that they work effectively with screen reading and other assistive technology. Ask a person who is blind and regularly uses adaptive computer technology to road test your website and social media. Have a plan in place to ensure that social media postings are accessible, including blog posts and newsletters. While some technologies allow you to add alt text, others do not. To remedy that, short image descriptions can be included in each post. As a bonus, many of these efforts also increase your Search Engine Optimization and reach. If you want to learn more specifically about web accessibility, please view this webinar: https://youtu.be/hSrfeCk_Bzw. Video hosting sites like YouTube provide free tools that allow users to add automated subtitles to their clips. This auto captioning is very helpful but not always perfect, so we recommend double-checking to ensure accuracy. Vimeo also has several options, including uploading your own timecoded transcript, or working with one of their paid transcription services, which will caption your video for a reasonable fee. Making a transcript of the video available online also is helpful.
  3. Show people with disabilities in photographs, infographics and other images on your website, in social media, and other materials. Only 38 percent of respondents to our survey work at organizations whose materials depict people with visible disabilities such as those who use wheelchairs or have Down syndrome. This is easily resolved by using photos and other images of people with authentic disabilities next to their nondisabled peers. (But please don’t put someone without a disability in a rented wheelchair to accomplish this.)
  4. Make it obvious that your policies are inclusive. Promote steps you are taking to be more inclusive of individuals with disabilities. Websites and social media accounts should make clear that your efforts are important, intentional, and ongoing. Consider how the photographs and stories you share, the events you advertise, and language you use reflects that people with disabilities are welcomed, valued and included. Websites and social media are critical tools for sharing an organization’s values and offerings.

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Accessibility Law Suites

Top Companies That Got Sued Over Website Accessibility

Gavel on marble platform

It might surprise you to learn that your favorite brands have faced accessibility lawsuits. Why?  Because their websites did not provide equal access to people with disabilities.

In recent years, businesses – from small brands to large corporations – have been subjected to an increase of 300% in accessibility lawsuits, paying an average of $25,000 in court settlements.

Well, no one is above the law. This statement is illustrated clearly in the case of these top companies that failed to meet accessibility standards for their consumers.

Famous Web Accessibility Lawsuits

Electronic Arts

Electronic Arts Logo

Electronic Arts (EA) Inc. is one of the recent targets of accessibility lawsuits. In May 2022, Rafael Cordero, a blind user, sued EA for failing to design its website to be fully usable and accessible to blind and visually-impaired users.

According to the lawsuit, accessibility issues on EA’s website center on the inability of screen-reading software to:

  • freely navigate the site
  • read item descriptions
  • read prices of items.

It also states that:

“Unless websites are designed to be read by screen-reading software, blind and visually impaired persons are unable to fully access websites and the information, products, goods, and services contained therein.”

Cordero wants a jury trial in addition to statutory, actual, and punitive damages for himself and all class members (other blind and visually impaired EA website users).

DraftKings

DraftKings logo

DraftKings, a top sports betting company, has several measures in place to ensure its website is accessible. However, web accessibility guidelines are constantly changing and can be difficult to track. DraftKings recently discovered this – and not in a pleasant way.

In June 2022, Robert Jahoda, a visually impaired user, sued the company for inaccessibility. Jahoda claims the company’s website was not compatible with popular screen-reading software.

He wants DraftKing to make changes to its compliance policies including retaining a qualified accessibility consultant and implementing all the recommendations. He also seeks payment of an undisclosed amount in attorney fees and nominal damages.

Target

Target logo

 

This case is a precedent for web accessibility cases and a cautionary tale to industries that do not meet the WCAG standards.

In 2005, the National Federation of the Blind (NFB), a non-profit representing blind Americans, notified Target that its website (Target.com) was inaccessible to blind and visually impaired customers.

The main complaints were that:

  • images on the site lacked alternative (alt) text.
  • several headings necessary to navigate the site were missing.
  • it was impossible to complete an online purchase without using a mouse.
  • maps showing the locations of Target stores were inaccessible to screen readers.

The lawsuit alleged Target violated the California Unruh Civil Rights Act, the California Disabled Persons Act, and The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) – accessibility laws that require all businesses and public spaces to be accessible to everyone, including people with disabilities.

Target initially argued that its website is not covered by the ADA, saying that only its physical stores were. It later changed its stance and settled with the NFB in 2008, paying $6 million in class damages.

Target also agreed to make its website more accessible, train its web developers team on accessibility design requirements and techniques, and permit the NFB to monitor its site for three years.

After the court ruling, Target responded,

“We will continue to implement technology that increases the usability of our Web site for all our guests, including those with disabilities.”

Netflix

Netflix logo

In 2012, the National Association of the Deaf (NAD) sued Netflix, the popular streaming service, for failing to provide closed captioning for most of its “Watch Instantly” movies and television streamed on the Internet.

At that time, Netflix was the only major player in the online-only video subscription business, which meant the disparity in access for deaf or hard-of-hearing viewers was huge.

NAD’s President Bobbie Scoggins was quite strong-worded on the matter, saying:

“We (the deaf and hard-of-hearing community) must have equal access to the biggest provider of streamed entertainment. Streamed video is the future and we must not be left out.”

In its defense, Netflix claimed it did not violate the ADA because its streaming business could not be considered a ‘public space’. However, the presiding judge ruled in favor of NAD, stating that public places are not only actual physical structures.

In the judge’s words:

“In a society in which business is increasingly conducted online, excluding businesses that sell services through the internet from the ADA .. would severely frustrate Congress’s intent that individuals with disabilities fully enjoy the goods, services, privileges, and advantages available indiscriminately to other members of the general public.”

The judge ordered Netflix to caption its streaming video library by 2014 and keep doing in the future. In addition, Netflix paid $755,000 to the NDA in legal fees and damages.

Nike

Nike logo

In 2017, a New Yorker, Maria Mendizabal, filed a lawsuit against Nike Inc, the footwear manufacturer, for inaccessibility. Maria claimed Nike’s two corporate websites – Nike.com and Converse.com – failed to give equal access to blind and visually impaired users like herself.

Maria said Nike’s websites did not conform to design requirements that allow screen readers to access and read web content. This meant Nike violated the Americans with Disabilities Act and several state accessibility laws. Major issues cited included:

  • Missing alternative (alt) text for images and other non-textual content.
  • Empty link texts
  • Redundant links.

Maria asked the judge to place a permanent injunction on Nike to update its websites to meet accessibility standards. She also sought compensation in damages, court costs, attorney fees, and pre-and post-judgment interest.

Amazon

Amazon logo

Today, Amazon’s websites are accessible, but this wasn’t always the case. In 2018, Cedric Bishop, a visually impaired customer, sued Amazon for being inaccessible to blind and visually-impaired users.

Bishop claimed Amazon’s website was incompatible with screen readers and refreshable Braille displays – software that allows visually impaired users to read web content. The lawsuit ended in a settlement.

Beyonce Knowles (Park Entertainment)

parkwood entertainment logo

Right after New Year’s celebrations, on January 3, 2019, Beyonce’s company, Park Entertainment, was sued because its official website was inaccessible to visually impaired users who could not buy tickets to a Beyonce concert.

The plaintiff, Mary Conner, argued that this violated the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). Major web accessibility issues included:

  •  Lack of alternative (text) for images.
  • lack of accessible drop-down menus and navigation links
  •  inability to navigate the site using a keyboard instead of a mouse

The class-action lawsuit focused on people who are legally blind – a category that includes a range of visual impairments, not just total blindness.

Domino’s Pizza

Domino's logo

In 2019, Guillermo Robles sued Domino’s Pizza over violations of ADA Title III. Robles claimed he could not order food from Domino’s website and mobile app using screen-reading software.

The judge ruled in favor of the plaintiff (Robles) that Domino’s mobile app was covered by the ADA and that the company violated the law. He ordered Domino’s to fix all accessibility issues on its site and also pay $4,000 to the plaintiff (Robles).

CVS

CVS Corporation

This case involved a class action lawsuit filed by several blind individuals who sued CVS, a pharmacy chain, for violating the ADA because its website was not accessible to screen reader users. The lawsuit claimed that CVS failed to provide alt text for images, proper headings, keyboard navigation, and other features that would make its website accessible. The case was settled in 2009, with CVS agreeing to pay $250,000 to a settlement fund for affected customers and make its website accessible.

Five Guys Burgers and Fries

Five Guys Burgers and Fries

In 2017, Lucia Marett, a blind user, sued the fast-food chain Five Guys for having an inaccessible website that prevented her from ordering food online. The lawsuit alleged that Five Guys violated the ADA and the New York Human Rights Law by failing to provide alt text for images, keyboard navigation, and other features that would make it accessible to screen readers. The case was settled out of court with Five Guys agreeing to make its website compliant with WCAG 2.0 AA standards and pay $10,000 in damages and attorney fees.

DoorDash

DoorDash Inc.

This case involved a class action lawsuit filed by several blind individuals who sued DoorDash, a food delivery service, for violating the ADA because its website and app were not accessible to screen reader users. The lawsuit claimed that DoorDash failed to provide alt text for images, proper headings, keyboard navigation, and other features that would make its website and app accessible. The case is still pending as of 2023.

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