What No One Tells You About Web Accessibility Lawsuits
The growing trend of lawsuits against private companies for inaccessible websites and online services has many companies spooked.
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No one wants to be the target of a web accessibility lawsuit, and certainly no one intends to exclude people with disabilities either.
But there are countless sites that pose barriers to users who are blind, deaf, deaf-blind, or have limited dexterity — how do you know that yours in particular will prompt a suit?
What spurs someone to take legal action against a company’s inaccessible website?
Corporate accessibility expert John Foliot of Deque Systems shed some insight into what triggers a web accessibility lawsuit.
In his presentation The Road to Sustainable Corporate Accessibility, he makes this salient point:It’s been my observation and experience over the 16 years or so that I’ve been doing this, that most lawsuits don’t start just because there’s an inaccessible website.
Lawsuits happen because somebody with a disability reached out to an organization to say that they were having problems, and the organization actually created or accelerated their frustration.
This might happen when they reach a telephone operator that was unaware of what the issues were, couldn’t provide any kind of useful resolution, and basically goes, ‘well, I’m sorry. I don’t know what we can do. I’ll pass it along.’
And the end user really doesn’t have a solution.
“Lawsuits happen because somebody with a disability reached out to an organization to say that they were having problems, and the organization actually created or accelerated their frustration.”
Think about it: people with disabilities aren’t on a witch hunt for any ADA violation they can find. They just genuinely want equal access and are understandably frustrated when that doesn’t happen.
If a person with a disability encounters accessibility issues with your website and lets you know about it, you need to be prepared to respond promptly in an informed, accommodating manner.
Customer Communication Strategy
Make sure any customer service or support representative is familiar with basic disability inclusion rules that affect your company.
The most fundamental law is the Americans with Disabilities Act, which requires that places of public accommodation provide equivalent access for people with disabilities upon request.
Many private companies fall into the ‘place of public accommodation’ category, including potentially online-only businesses.
All customer-facing employees should understand the company’s legal obligation to accommodate requests from people with disabilities. Then, of course, they should be given the tools and information needed to offer those accommodations.
Such accommodations could include:
- Providing a plain-text alternative version of PDFs so that they can be read by a screenreader
- Adding captions to videos or providing a transcript for audio recordings
- Fixing your website’s semantic structure so it can be logically navigated by screenreader and by keyboard
- Adding alt text to convey information in images or graphics that would otherwise be inaccessible to blind users
- Changing the font type, size, or color contrast of text to improve legibility for low-vision or colorblind users
It’s possible that you don’t yet have a procedure in place to provide a requested accommodation. That is when it’s especially important to arm customer service representatives with a well-articulated response script to ensure the person understands how seriously their request is being taken, that their rights to equal access are being acknowledged and respected.
Then, of course, have a clear plan for how to escalate such requests to the appropriate personnel and ensure successful accommodation. Share progress updates with the customer if needed, and let them know as soon as the problem is fixed.
“What’s even better than being prepared to respond to accessibility complaints is preventing them in the first place.”
Proactivity Pays Off
What’s even better than being prepared to respond to accessibility complaints is preventing them in the first place.
That’s where a proactive web accessibility strategy comes in.
For solid advice on formulating an accessibility plan for your company and making your website compliant with accessibility law, watch John Foliot’s presentation below:More: a11y, accessibility law, accessibility lawsuit, accessible design, ADA, best practices, closed captions, communication, corporate accessibility, customer service, Deque, digital inclusion, Disability Law, equal access, inclusive design, John Foliot, lawsuit, place of public accommodation, reasonable accommodation, web accessibility