By Nathan Resnick
The Americans with Disabilities Act, also known as the ADA, has been around since 1990. However, it’s only in recent years that digital agencies are learning just how important it is to have a thorough understanding of all the requirements. The financial and reputational risks of non-compliance are huge. It is detrimental for a company to ignore this law.
The ADA is a civil rights law that was passed to protect the rights of disabled Americans. It ensures that people with disabilities have equal access to the products and services offered by a company. This law gave us things like handicapped parking spots and wheelchair ramps, but it also applies to web access.
As commerce continues to move further and further into the online realm, ensuring total compliance with the ADA is easier said than done. Digital agencies must quickly build websites to keep up with online demand. Ensuring total accessibility for those with disabilities, while building those websites is a slow process.
In 2018, 2,285 ADA website lawsuits were filed in the United States. This number was 181% higher than the number filed in 2017. In 2019, the number of lawsuits set an all-time record with over 11,000 cases filed.
For agencies with clients based in California, Florida, or New York, the need for vigilance in protecting against lawsuits is especially high. Eighty-four percent of all ADA lawsuits are filed in these three states. These cases continue to grow each year, and businesses must take care in protect themselves and their clients against this threat.
Compliance is complicated
During this analysis, accessiBe checked for accessibility compliance among things like pop-ups, images, links, and other important web features; 89% of sites failed to meet requirements for pop-ups, even among those sites using accessibility plugins or services. Similarly, over half of the web pages had non-compliant images, around 75% had non-compliant web forms, and 83% contained non-compliant buttons.
The good news is that web page links performed fairly well in the compliance tests. Seventy-eight percent of the analyzed pages passed the compliance test. This is most likely due to browser settings, which often are automatically compliant. Despite the default browser settings, though, nearly 25% of pages failed to be fully compliant with their links.
Many organizations don’t realize just how likely it is that they are currently failing to meet ADA standards in at least one area. The requirements are strict and they must apply to every part of your site. A failure to meet any of these requirements can lead to a lawsuit.
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Lawsuits are incentivized
In many areas of the law, suing someone can potentially cost you as much in legal fees as you win from the case. That’s not the case with ADA lawsuits. If a disabled person files a lawsuit and wins, all legal fees are covered. This creates a greater incentive to initiate lawsuits because the risk is lower than in other circumstances.
Following a 2009 amendment to the Americans with Disabilities Act, a greater number of individuals qualify as disabled. Additionally, an increasing amount of shoppers prefer online shopping to visiting a brick-and-mortar location.
With a high number of individuals who qualify as disabled, combined with an increase of people being online, the chances are much higher that a disabled customer will uncover a non-compliance issue on a website.
The combination of all these circumstances puts not only your clients, but also your own agency in a very vulnerable position. It doesn’t take many lawsuits to ruin an agency’s reputation. If you want your name to be associated with high levels of professionalism, it’s important to pay attention to these risks.
These costs are dangerously high
The cost of an ADA lawsuit can reach up to $1 million. The reason the price tag for a lost ADA lawsuit is so high is that there are so many different costs to think about. Depending on the skill of your lawyer, the hourly rate could range anywhere from $175 an hour all the way to $600 an hour. Additionally, if the plaintiff wins the case, the defendant will need to pay the plaintiff’s lawyer fees. There’s also the money lost in the actual lawsuit, as well as mediation costs.
Digital agencies might be tempted to think these costs will only affect their clients, but in reality, in many circumstances some of the blame for non-compliance can be passed on to the agency that worked with the non-compliant business. The legal fees could end up being the responsibility of the agency or there could be other lawsuits filed. Either way, it’s much better to avoid the financial damage entirely.
Once you add up the numbers, it’s apparent that ADA lawsuits are one of the biggest threats facing non-compliant digital agencies. Without meeting all accessibility requirements, you’ll quickly gain a reputation of non-professionalism. Clients won’t want to work with an agency with a track record of leading businesses into costly lawsuits. It’s important to make the necessary updates if you hope to build a strong brand and achieve long-term success for your company.
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