ADA lawsuits focus on digital environments
When COVID pushed work and school online, website traffic increased significantly. As consumers visited more websites, it became clear that many companies had focused their attention on physical accessibility but neglected to make their websites digitally accessible. That resulted in a dramatic increase in ADA lawsuits in the digital environment.
The total number of ADA lawsuits in 2020 fell 1% from 11,053 in 2019 to 10,982 in 2020. But among those cases, the number focused specifically on website accessibility rose 23% (3,550 in 2020 vs 2,980 in 2019).
Early 2020 and 2019 had similar numbers of ADA lawsuits, but cases declined sharply in the spring due to court shutdowns and other COVID restrictions. After most courts reopened in July, numbers spiked. Website accessibility lawsuits continually increased through the end of the year, resulting in 2,222 more cases. December was the largest single month with 487 cases.
ADA lawsuits targeted every industry
People safely tucked away at home took advantage of online shopping and ordered prepared food online for pickup and delivery. Website accessibility lawsuits impacted retail and foodservice industries the most. Combined, they accounted for more than 85% of website accessibility lawsuits in 2020.
That certainly doesn’t mean that other industries were left out. Prestigious educational institutions like MIT as well as less expected companies like bicycle shops and car dealerships faced lawsuits. Pursuing a sense of normalcy and a safe way to enjoy shared interests, fans and gamers still wanted to support their favorite teams and video games. When sports and video game websites fell short, fans let them know with litigation.
While sports fans weren’t able to enjoy events in person, they still found ways to support their favorite teams by purchasing merchandise. New Yorker and football enthusiast Dilenia Paguada attempted to shop on the Dallas Cowboys Pro Shops website in September 2020. Because she is also blind, she uses assistive technology to access the internet.
The Cowboys’ virtual team shop prevented Paguada from making purchases because it had myriad barriers to accessibility. The website fails to include clear alt text for images and links, clear label elements or title attributes, page titles, instructions for user inputs, correct reading structure, or text equivalent for non-text elements.
Although the Dallas Cowboys are Texas-based, Plaintiff Paguada lives in New York, so New York City and State civil rights laws apply, in addition to the ADA. If courts find merit in Paguada’s allegations, the Cowboys will be required to make its website accessible. Courts might order punitive and statutory damages in addition to court costs and legal fees.
Looking for ways to safely connect, many people enjoyed their favorite video games while in quarantine and lockdown. While Microsoft has been conscientious of making their digital products accessible, Josue Romero claims their Xbox website misses the mark. Romero alleges that the inaccessible website prevents him and others who are disabled from accessing XBox’s goods.
Alleged barriers include images and linked images without alt text, redundant links, and links without text alternatives. The plaintiff claims that Microsoft violates the ADA and civil rights laws in both the state and city of
New York. He wants courts to mandate that Microsoft fix its website and an award for damages.
ADA lawsuits impact every state
New York, California, and Florida accounted for over 90% of website accessibility lawsuits in 2020 due to their significant state civil rights laws. While the ADA at the federal level does not allow plaintiffs to recover damages beyond compensation for court costs and legal fees, some state laws do allow plaintiffs to recover punitive damages for discrimination caused by an inaccessible website. Some states also enforce discrimination laws against any company whose website is available to residents of their state, regardless of where the company is located.
While much of 2020 was utterly unprecedented, the increase of website accessibility lawsuits is not. Increasingly, people with disabilities are becoming frustrated with companies’ failure to create websites that are accessible. The only way to guarantee your company won’t face ADA lawsuits is to make sure every part of your business- both in the built and digital environments- are accessible to every visitor.
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