The Case For ADA Compliance

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There is a lot of hype, panic, and general scrambling over compliance under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).  Most of the reason for the unrest is the focus on the dramatic increase in ADA lawsuits, and the outcomes are favoring the plaintiff.  However, did you know when your organization is ADA compliant, you have opened the door for millions of Americans to access your goods, services, and information?

judge banging gavel in the court room

Organizations are Fighting ADA Lawsuits and Learning a Tough Lesson

Perhaps the most notable case was in July 2017 when the courts ruled against Winn-Dixie.  The Winn-Dixie case is the first ruling where the courts strictly enforced the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 AA standards in a Title III organization.  What makes this case noteworthy is WCAG standards for websites were designated as the accessibility standard Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act which is a separate law from the ADA, but both laws often overlap. You can think of Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act (added in 1998) as our timely add-on to the ADA (passed in 1990). It provides specific standards for accessible technology, documents, and spaces. 

In the most recent case, Robles v. Domino’s Pizza, Domino’s was sued and found liable for being non-compliant with ADA laws.  The non-compliance was because their website and app were not accessible for people with vision impairments.   

In June 2019, Domino’s fought the ruling by taking the case to the Supreme Court. Domino’s cites it could not be sued because the only laws for digital compliance were not designed for businesses other than those receiving federal funding, per Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act.  

The Supreme Court disagreed with this argument and deemed that the ADA laws provide equal access for people with disabilities.  Mr. Robles proved that he was denied access, thus paving the way for many more Americans with disabilities to sue for their right to equality.  

Why Are Businesses Settling ADA Complaints Rather Than Fighting? 

It didn’t take long for the courts to form case laws that favor ADA compliance.  Now, businesses and organizations are learning they are liable for non-compliance with ADA laws, and it’s becoming costly and publicized to fight these lawsuits. Companies are settling because the ADA laws are on the side of people with disabilities.  

Statue of lady justice holding up her scales and sword

A Look at the Intention of the Laws 

The intention of the law is what courts reference as they decide regarding these ADA related lawsuits.  The ADA law requires businesses and organizations to provide equal access to goods, services, and communication.  The law addresses providing braille, audio, closed caption, wheelchair ramps, doorway widths, counter and fountain heights, and more, yet it makes no mention of accessible websites.  

Why were websites and digital documents left out of the ADA?  Because the ADA went into effect long before computers were a staple in most households.  However, the law made it clear that equal access to goods, services, and communication were the heart of the ADA.  Courts are seeing it that way as well. 

Does Digital Compliance Supersede the need for Braille, Audio, and Large Print?

No, they’re equals. Here’s why: The ADA is one of the laws that makes it clear that an alternative to standard print is required for organizations to be ADA compliant.  The law further explains that the option must be in a format that the person with a disability can access.  The Effective Communication Guide outlines the intention of the law.  So, yes, businesses must adhere to both online digital compliance and hardcopy compliance.  

Beware, Not All Compliance Companies are the Same

Double indemnity doesn’t apply in ADA compliance laws.  This means someone can sue you for the same violation more than once, mainly if the offense still exists.  In the Winn-Dixie case, they tried to argue that the ADA compliance was the responsibility of a third party, and that was quickly struck down.  Case law makes the business or organization responsible for ADA compliance.   

Often, organizations are not aware that they violate the ADA.  This is because they have trusted another company to design and manage their digital presence, or they only adhere to WCAG and overlook the other part of the Effective Communication requirements, like braille, large print, and audio.  It is essential to select a reputable organization that didn’t stumble upon ADA compliance when it became a trend. Also, it is vital to make sure that your company is ADA compliant in all areas, not just digital. Learn how to make your organization legal by consulting with a longtime partner in ADA accessibility.

You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know

It is rare that an organization would intentionally not provide accessibility.  Most businesses open with the structural ADA requirements (door, entryways, parking, etc.) in place.  The day-to-day communication is where many organizations fall short. This oversight can be costly in time, money, and reputation. 

The ADA lawsuits filed in 2018 total over ten-thousand. California, New York, and Florida have the highest number of lawsuits filed against businesses.  With the increase in lawsuits and case law, the time is NOW for complete ADA compliance.  

Photograph of the US Supreme Court building

Closing Statements

The case for ADA compliance is clear. Not only is it the law, but it also benefits your customers. Complying with the ADA removes barriers and enables people of all abilities to be part of your company or organization. Be a champion for accessibility; be a champion for change.

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This post was written by Christine Sket

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