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How your small business website can get you sued

Is your website a potential liability? Yes, it probably is.

Over the past three to four years, there has been an ‘explosion’ of lawsuits and claims from people with disabilities claiming that companies’ websites (and, increasingly, their mobile apps) are not accessible to them. because they didn’t live up to code with Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA, according to Charles Marion, an attorney White Rome LLP in Philadelphia.

The issue received national attention after a decision in October by the United States Supreme Court to overturn a lower court ruling that opened the door for blind people to sue Domino’s Pizza for failing to make its website accessible. The lower court ruling ruled that the ADA not only applies to making a company’s physical establishments accessible to people with disabilities, but also covers their properties online.

Dominos is not the only company exposed to these complaints. According to a Study 2019, 98% of the more than one million homepages of large and small businesses analyzed by an industry watchdog did not meet all of the recommended requirements for website accessibility for people with disabilities.

“The vast majority of allegations are made by visually impaired people who use a ‘screen reader’ – software that allows the user to read aloud content on a website when moving their cursor over them. website information – but claim they tried to access certain information on the company website using their screen reader, but could not because the website was not not properly coded to be compatible with the screen reader, ”said Marion. “Most of these lawsuits have been filed in California, New York and Florida, but we’ve seen a growing number in Pennsylvania. “

Thomas Barton, lawyer at Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP The Philadelphia office said the number of ADA filings increased 34% from 2017 and about 300% since 2013, as did their physical locations, ”he said.

Barton expects the plaintiffs’ firms to “go through the list of major retailers soon and settle or sue them,” and then those lawyers will start looking at smaller businesses lower on the list in terms of size and revenue. In other words, claims arrive at a small business near you.

“And, the exhibition is not limited to pure retail, but also includes restaurants, doctor’s offices, auto repair shops and hair salons,” Barton said. “Businesses typically faced with an ADA claim will have to pay the disability attorney’s fees (or at least a portion), their own legal fees, and will have to agree to some website changes.” In some jurisdictions, people with disabilities may also be entitled to statutory damages under state law.

So how do you know if your business website is ADA Compliant?

“In its simplest form, a website visitor should be able to unplug their monitor and mouse and navigate your business website,” said Jason McKee, chief marketing officer of Accessibility shield, a Norristown company that provides ADA compliance tools. “If you can’t do this or don’t understand what I mean, then you have an accessibility problem.”

It’s no surprise that attorneys Barton and Marion recommend having an attorney and IT consultant familiar with ADA rules to review your site and suggest changes to be made in order to be compliant, as well as having a protocol in place to ensure that the site is regularly evaluated and updated. Corn Karissa Demi, a software engineer in the city of Philadelphia says other simple steps can also be taken almost immediately.

She recommends that small businesses avoid using fonts and colors that don’t have enough contrast to be distinguishable by visually impaired users. She also suggests including descriptions for important images, using techniques to ensure that pop-ups have the correct encoding to make them invisible to users with screen readers, and having an order. logical tab for buttons and headers.

“But, unfortunately,” she concedes, “a lot of websites are built with no accessibility in mind from day one, so it’s more difficult to retroactively correct issues.”

Free tools are also available to verify your site’s ADA compliance. For example, WAVE is a suite of assessment tools that helps authors make their web content more accessible to people with disabilities. Tools are also available from the Internet Accessibility Office and accessibility consulting firm Access level.

Now that more and more people are learning about ADA’s accessibility guidelines, it becomes imperative for small business owners to make sure their sites are compliant. “It’s a lawsuit you’re going to lose,” McKee warned. And you potentially eliminate your audience, he said. “Market share or the consequences of going to court: take your pick. Thousands of lawsuits take place every year and it’s not going to go away. “

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