Contributed Column

Web Trends

by Dave Gibson

Website accessibility and the ADA

I started building websites and providing online marketing over 21 years ago … when the Web was in diapers. What started as a fumbling baby quickly grew into a multidimensional beast that changed how we socialize, how we learn, how we shop, and how we even get from point A to point B. It’s affected practically every aspect of life for individuals and businesses. Over this span, you learn to spot trends and best practices as they emerge.

Today, the biggest thing I see on the horizon is digital accessibility: providing unhindered access to websites and apps that people with disabilities need to explore, engage, and transact with the digital world. While I’d love to think we’d all pursue this out of the goodness of our hearts, the fact is we’re going to need a push — a hard push — and that is the American Disabilities Act. The ADA, and in particular a clause that states that people with disabilities have a civil right to unhindered access to “places of public accommodation,” provides those protections. In the past, these places have been physical locations such as banks, hotels, dentist offices, and most any commercial location. As the Web has become an integral part of life, the ADA has made the leap from physical to digital. The Department of Justice, plaintiffs, and advocates have made the arguments, and most courts have agreed: Websites are subject to the ADA.

The result has been the growth of plaintiff law firms that smell blood and easy money in the water. Remember the deluge of physical barrier ADA cases that hit businesses in the ’90s? That required hiring “testers” to go to locations, take measurements and photos, and write up reports that would be folded into a case or demand letter. In the case of websites, this is digital, so it takes seconds and costs cents. If you thought physical barrier cases were prolific, just wait until this reaches full throttle.

According to the law firm Seyfarth Shaw, which has tracked these cases since 2015, the number of federal lawsuits up to August 2017 has grown by a factor of 7.5 over the past two years. Demand letters have been more prolific, and while we know they have exploded in number, there are not public records kept to measure. A combination of rulings in the past year promises to only increase the growth of legal escapades (extortion) hitting businesses of all shapes and sizes.

It’s extremely likely that your website is in violation of the ADA unless it was built and maintained in strict accordance with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0 AA), which serves as the de facto standard.

So, what should you do now?

1. Contact a Web accessibility consultant.

2. Have your website audited (not using off-the-shelf software) to at least know what you’re dealing with, and start on remediation as soon as possible.

3. Publish a Web accessibility statement that makes it clear you’re “on it,” and thus communicate to ADA trolls that you’re not low-hanging fruit.

Silver linings? This is a large market that you are currently missing. One in five Americans suffer from a disability and over 22 million have vision loss. And good accessibility leads to good usability and search engine optimization.

Dave Gibson (@propdave) is the founder of Web and digital marketing shop Propeller Media Works, Burlington;;

Index of Contributed Columns

For information on submitting a contributed column see here.