5 Takeaways From the 2020 Accessibility Lawsuit Report

January 25, 2021 BY AJ BELTIS
Updated: January 22, 2021

Each year, we anxiously await the opportunity to dive into the ADA Lawsuit Report from Usablenet – a pioneer of digital accessibility and usability. 

Like its predecessors, Usablenet’s 2020 Report on Digital Accessibility Lawsuits includes data from thousands of lawsuits against organizations for claims of violating the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Collected over the course of 50 weeks in 2020, Usablenet “reviews all lawsuits filed in federal courts under the ADA and in California state court under Unruh.”

2020 proved – unsurprisingly – to be a landmark year with regard to digital accessibility lawsuits. The lockdowns and restrictions resulting from COVID-19 drastically altered the rate at which these cases were filed. Additionally, a mass migration of office employees to a makeshift work-from-home environment exposed even more flaws in accessibility for organizations’ websites, apps, and online content.

As in previous years, 2020 also saw lawsuits for alleged ADA violations independent of the global pandemic – with some being served to organizations which have already faced accessibility-related litigation in the past. 

The full report is worth a thorough read – particularly if you work in website development, video production, and/or digital marketing – but to peak your interests, here are what we believe to be the report’s five key takeaways.

1. COVID-19’s Impact on Accessibility Lawsuits

With offices closed and legal proceedings stalled, the first third of 2020 saw decreasing month-over-month filings of digital accessibility cases and lawsuits. According to the report, the filing numbers dipped most in states such as New York – which on its own was responsible for 64% of digital accessibility lawsuits (or 123 lawsuits per month). 

However, starting in May, there was a notable incline in case filings – with each month in the second half of 2020 seeing more cases than any single month in the first half of the year. This growth culminated in a 50+% increase in lawsuits in December compared to pre-pandemic filing rates.

Bar graph shows how COVID-19 influenced the number of lawsuits filed in 2020. The graph begins with January having 284. February has 267. March has 228. April has 129. May has 189. June has 231. July has 330. August has 384. September has 356. October has 33. November has 332. Finally, December has 487. There is a trend line that increases through the months.

2. Video Accessibility Claims Rise in Prominence

The vast majority of ADA and digital accessibility violation lawsuits are from desktop websites, which represented 3,235 out of the 3,550 claims in 2020. However, the report specifically acknowledged the “new trend in video content claims,” which “demand that all videos have closed captions and audio descriptions.”

Video accessibility was cited in 150 claims – making it the third most-cited purpose for a digital accessibility lawsuit in 2020. 

Companies can avoid these lawsuits by working with a vendor that supplies reliable video captioning services, audio descriptions, and live automatic captioning. Ensuring quality in these areas limits the chance of facing a video accessibility lawsuit while improving the experience for anyone who wants to watch video content online. 

3. Growing Annual Numbers of Digital Accessibility Lawsuits

The previous takeaway signals that while COVID-19 had an effect on the speed of filing these lawsuits, it did not contribute to 2020 seeing fewer lawsuits than in 2019. While this trend is evident in the month-over-month digital accessibility lawsuit count, it’s even clearer when comparing these metrics annually. 

Horizontal bar graph shows an increase in digital accessibility lawsuits from 2018 to 2020. At the top of the graph is 2018 with 2,314 cases, below 2018 is 2019 with 2,890 cases, and last is 2020 with 3,3550 cases. Above the graph it says “23% increase in 2020. Almost 10 lawsuits every business day.”

According to Usablenet’s data and research team, 2020 saw a total of 3,550 ADA-related cases – representing a 23% increase from the 2,890 cases in 2019. This number boils down to almost 10 lawsuits filed daily in either the federal or California state courts directly referencing an ADA violation.

These findings suggest that as the world becomes more digital, it must also become more accessible. Since 2019, mobile has consistently been the predominant source of traffic online – posing a challenge for business and organizations to continuously optimize not only their desktop sites but also the mobile sites and apps. If not, we will likely see this lawsuit count climb higher for the next several years.  

4. Retail and Restaurants Face Mounting Pressure

The most cited sector in 2020 digital accessibility lawsuits was retail – involved in nearly four out of five case filings. Far behind retail with involvement in 8% of lawsuits was the restaurant industry, which emerged as the second most-cited sector last year.

According to Usablenet, retailers face these lawsuits so frequently due to the popularity of company websites in the industry – and clear lack of accessibility on many of them. The hurdle comes from difficulty for these retail sites to meet WCAG 2.0 standards and the legal precedent that retailers are expected to provide accessible purchase options online. 

Other industries often faced with digital accessibility lawsuits in 2020 included:

  • Education (2.45% of cases).
  • Entertainment & Leisure (1.44% of cases).
  • Banking & Finance (1.38% of cases).
  • Insurance (1.32% of cases).

5. One Lawsuit Isn’t Always the End of the Road

One would think that the first digital accessibility lawsuit an organization faces would be its last, and that those in charge would implement the changes needed to make online content more accessible and avoid future litigation. 

Unfortunately, that’s not the case. 

In 2020, more than 20% of digital accessibility lawsuits were filed against “a company that had already been sued in the past two years.” 

In part because of an increased demand to conduct business and disseminate information online, companies are seeing multiple accessibility lawsuits – sometimes over different platforms. For example, an organization’s first ADA lawsuit might be due to a website accessibility issue, while a subsequent one may have to do with a mobile app. It’s also common for organizations to be subjected to multiple lawsuits for the same violation. 

It bears repeating that digital commerce and engagement will not be losing their prevalence anytime soon, and companies should be thorough and cognizant when it comes to WCAG and ADA adherence online – particularly organizations which have already faced legal repercussions. 

A Year in Review

The rise of digital accessibility and ADA lawsuits in 2020 is a discouraging trend, as these cases expose that fact that many organizations are not creating an accessible and inclusive online experience. 

However, a silver lining is that these lawsuits continue to shine a light on these common digital accessibility shortcomings, which will hopefully become a thing of the past sooner rather than later. 

We recommend exploring the full 2020 Usablenet Report on Digital Accessibility Lawsuits for even more data on state-specific lawsuits, widget and overlay lawsuits, and more. You can download and read the full report by clicking here

Ready to make sure you avoid an accessibility lawsuit? Download the FREE Video Accessibility Checklist now.Video Accessibility Checklist: How to Make Online Videos Accessible

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