Does Every Website Need to be ADA Compliant?

Listen to Podcast Episode 3 (MP3 File Download)

This is the Accessible.org Podcast. My name is Kris Rivenburgh. Today I’m answering the question, Does every website need to be ADA compliant?

I know you’re trying to find out whether you’re legally obligated to make your website accessible in the US; whether your website falls under the Americans with Disabilities Act – and my answer is an emphatic yes. All websites need to be accessible now are some highly unlikely to ever receive a demand letter or lawsuit? Definitely.

If you write a gardening blogger on Tumblr, there’s a 99.999% chance you’re just not going to be special enough to merit the time and attention of a plaintiff’s law firm. But the more commercial in nature your website is, the more you become open season for serial ADA lawsuit filers. If your website is connected to a physical location, you are 100% ripe for a web accessibility lawsuit. If your website is only web-based, you can absolutely still be sued and even theoretically, lose a case on the merits in court.

Web-based businesses with no physical presence are increasingly being swept up in ADA compliance. Although not all courts agree on this, plaintiffs’ law firms just pivot to courts that do. In effect, even companies without a brick and mortar location are completely vulnerable to a web accessibility lawsuit.

Most people want to know whether a website needs to be ADA compliant, but the better question is actually, how likely are you to receive a demand letter? Again, if you have a physical location – for example, a restaurant, hotel, bank, gym, museum, etc. Done deal. You need to have an accessible web presence. If your website consists of commercial activities, if you’re selling products or services or financial transactions are taking place on your website, then again, you need to make your website accessible.

From there, it’s a sliding scale of your risk. For example, maybe you’re an independent contractor, like an architect who has an informational website complete with the blog and contact information. This type of website would be far less likely to receive a demand letter than a bank, but it’s not inconceivable that a plaintiff’s law firm would send a demand letter.

The primary reason I say that every website needs to be ADA compliant is because there is no definitive web accessibility law for private entities in the United States. Instead, the legal standard is just a running ledger of best guessing of what feels right.

Plaintiffs’ law firms are running with the ambiguity and cobbling together claims of disability discrimination and just going forth with that, they’re not too worried that things aren’t sorted out because it works in their favor either way.

So you must make your website accessible because the law is being made up as we go. Maybe, technically, your website isn’t a “place of public accommodation” (and the ADA requires accessibility from places of public accommodation), but it’s a moot point because plaintiffs’ lawyers don’t mind sending you a demand letter to test the waters.

Once you receive that demand letter, it’s going to be much more efficient for you to hire a defense attorney and settle with them than it would be for you to go ahead and litigate out that case. And then also keep in mind that it’s very likely you’re going to need an out of state attorney if you’re not in New York, California and Florida, where most of these lawsuits are taking place.

So, it doesn’t really matter whether you can reference a technically sound legal defense because once you receive that demand letter you’ve lost. Your best bet is to just start off with making your website accessible.

Beyond the legal requirements, of course, accessibility is highly beneficial in that everybody can engage with their website. But I know you’re here because you want to reduce your risk of receiving one of these ugly, ugly demand letters. That’s the answer on whether you need to make your website accessible.

So what should you do now? I’ve got links in the show notes below on how to proceed, but the most important take away from this episode is you need to make your website accessible.

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