What You Can Learn From UsableNet’s 2019 ADA Lawsuit Report

January 16, 2020 BY SAMANTHA SAULD
Updated: January 17, 2020

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If you’re an accessibility advocate, you may be familiar with the technology company, UsableNet. If you’re not familiar, UsableNet helps organizations create more accessible and inclusive digital experiences. 

For the last several years, UsableNet has been publishing an annual report tracking web accessibility-related lawsuits. They continue to be a thought-leader in this space, with a robust research team monitoring all Americans with Disabilities (ADA) lawsuits filed in federal court and verifying their connection to websites and applications.   

The purpose of the ADA Lawsuit Report is to raise awareness on the current state of digital accessibility. Jason Taylor, Chief Innovation Strategist of UsableNet, shared, “We provide this report…to help businesses start the important conversation about digital inclusion and better experiences for customers of all abilities.” 

In this blog post, we’ll provide the main takeaways from the 2019 ADA lawsuit report, featuring how the number of lawsuits has changed over the years and the industries most impacted. 

 Download The Full 2019 ADA Lawsuit Report ➡️ 

Numbers Don’t Lie

In the report, there were a total of 2,235 new website lawsuits in 2019 alone. In comparison to 2018 with a total of 2,314 cases, the amount of cases filed in 2019 has slightly decreased. However, this is still a significant number. Since 2016, the number of website accessibility cases has increased exponentially, especially in states like New York and Florida. 

A graph from UsableNet titled, "Four Years of Continued Legal Pressure". The graph shows the number of lawsuits from 2016-2019. Total Number of ADA Web and App Accessibility filed cases reached one-an-hour in year 2018 and is holding in 2019. The 2019 year total of 2,235 cases was slightly below the 2018 year total of 2314, due to plaintiff lawyers waiting for the Supreme Court to decide not to hear the Domino’s case. The previous year of 2017 total was 814 and the 2016 year total was only 262 cases.Image Courtesy of UsableNet 

 

UsableNet found that by the middle of 2019, one website lawsuit was filed per hour. That’s an astonishing fact! 

Industries Impacted The Most

Two industries stood out the most in 2019: retail and the food service industry. Of the 2,235 cases filed in 2019, 60% were against retail brands and 9% were against food service companies. 

Some interesting stats from the report found that since 2017: 

  • Over 66% of the top 500 retailers have been sued in federal court. 
  • 60% of the top restaurant chains in the restaurant and hospitality industry have been sued.
Retail was the most targeted industry with over 60% of all cases (1347 cases). Second was Food Service with 202 cases, Entertainment and Leisure had 194 cases. Travel had 157 case. Self-service saw 60 cases and Real Estate had 49 cases. Image Courtesy of UsableNet 

 

Just because a company was sued in the past, it doesn’t mean that they aren’t at risk of another lawsuit. UsableNet discovered that 21% of lawsuits are against companies that have been sued in the past for inaccessible websites or applications. This means that the companies that manage multiple brands under their umbrella could be at risk for over a dozen different lawsuits. 

Regardless of if one brand reached a settlement agreement, it doesn’t mean that another brand managed by the same parent company can’t be sued. If companies are not taking the necessary steps to make their digital communications accessible, there’s a high probability of receiving another lawsuit. 

 

The Domino’s Effect

One notable accessibility case, in particular, Domino’s Pizza v. Guillermo Robles, affected the speed at which cases were filed.  

In September 2016, Guillermo Robles, a blind patron, attempted to order a customized pizza from the Domino’s Pizza website and mobile app. He failed to complete the order because the website was inaccessible to screen readers. Robles sued the pizza giant, claiming that the company violated the ADA. 

Attorneys for Domino’s Pizza argued that the ADA doesn’t apply to websites and digital applications since the law was passed before the internet was as prevalent as it is today.

The time leading up to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision not to hear the case, the number of lawsuits filed decreased to 30 per week. However, in early October, the lower court denied a petition from Domino’s to hear whether its website was required to be accessible. This was a huge win for accessibility advocates because it meant that Domino’s will have to battle Roble’s claims in court. 

Once this decision was made by the lower court, the Supreme Court decided that the decision would stand. As soon as this decision was made, the rate of lawsuits increased exponentially again. 

Average cases filed per week slowed down to leading up to the Supreme Court's decision not to hear the Robles vs Domino's Pizza case but then quickly accelerated back up to 58 a week to make up for the gap.Image Courtesy of UsableNet 

The ADA and Its Implication on Online Businesses 

Dive into the current legal landscape in this free webinar

The Americans with Disabilities Act, otherwise known as the ADA, is a broad anti-discrimination law, enacted in 1990, that protects people with disabilities in all areas of public life. 

It’s divided into five different sections called titles. Title III is specifically related to online and website accessibility. It prohibits discrimination of people with disabilities by places of public accommodation. For example, libraries, museums, restaurants, or hotels. 

When this law was passed, the internet wasn’t utilized and relied upon by a mass of people like it is today. Therefore, it was assumed that the ADA only applied to physical locations like brick and mortar stores. 

However, a number of recent lawsuits against businesses failing to make their websites and applications accessible have created a strong precedent that the ADA applies to online information and communications as well. 

People with disabilities and accessibility advocates are fighting for inclusion, and businesses that don’t provide accessible digital communications will be at risk of a lawsuit. 

How to Avoid A Potential Lawsuit in 2020

The disability community is a growing population. There are about 1 billion people, or 15% of the global population, living with some form of disability. With life expectancy increasing, the number of people with disabilities is expected to rise. 

Whether a disability is permanent, situational, or temporary, businesses must accommodate everyone. 71% of people with disabilities leave a website immediately if it’s inaccessible, and that’s a large portion of the population. 

Not only is having an inaccessible website a bad look for brands, but it’s also bad for business. According to the Return on Disability Group, $1 trillion of annual income is missed when businesses don’t make their content accessible. 

Just like a wheelchair ramp or an elevator, we’ve learned that accessibility doesn’t only benefit people with disabilities; accessibility benefits everyone. 

Ensuring that websites and applications are accessible is imperative, but it doesn’t stop there. Online content should be accessible too, including video content. 

Video is on the rise. By 2022, 82% of the world’s internet traffic will be video. More video has been uploaded to the web in one month than TV has created in three decades. 

Many organizations have been sued for failing to make their videos accessible to viewers with disabilities including Netflix, Harvard, and FedEx.  

In order to make video content accessible, it must have closed captions, audio descriptions, transcripts, and an accessible video player. 

The fight to make the world a more accessible place isn’t slowing down anytime soon. According to UsableNet, the number of ADA website lawsuits is predicted to rise. It’s important that companies are proactive, instead of reactive, when it comes to accessibility. Making your content accessible doesn’t only save you from a potential lawsuit, but it helps you to forge better connections and relationships with the disability community who want to fully and equally participate in society, purchase products, and interact with brands. 


In this webinar, the team at UsableNet discuss the trends in web accessibility 👇

what we can learn about web accessibility. This webinar explore the trends they uncovered, and how organizations can learn from ruling in these lawsuits to ensure their websites are accessible. Watch the webinar.

This blog post is written for educational and general information purposes only and does not constitute specific legal advice. This blog should not be used as a substitute for competent legal advice from a licensed professional attorney in your state.

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