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Your website is a sitting duck.

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Woman sues 175 business owners over websites (We can help you avoid this.)

Critics call it “legal extortion,” now targeting small business owners who feel they are “sitting ducks” for ADA lawsuits regarding their websites that are not accessible to some with disabilities. 

Last year, there were 2,285 ADA website lawsuits filed in federal courts across the nation, an increase of a 181 percent from 2017, according to website accessibility company UsableNet. The majority of lawsuits originate in Florida and New York.

“The attorneys are telling us, ‘You can’t fight this. There’s nothing you can do, just write them a check,'” said Ben Tundis, owner of Island Comfort Footwear in the Westfield Countryside Mall in Clearwater.

Tundis is one of 175 business owners sued by Emily Fuller, of Broward County, a visually-impaired woman holding businesses accountable if they have websites that are not ADA compliant. Fuller, in her lawsuit filed Jan. 4, claims that she was not able to use the recently launched website of Tundis’ shoe store.

Fuller uses a screen reader to use the Internet and claims the shoe store’s website lacked coding that would communicate with her software. This excluded her from shopping on the website, which is a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, according to the lawsuit.

Lawsuits like this one are being filed by the stackful, typically by one plaintiff working with a handful of lawyers who are gaining notoriety for these types of cases.

South Florida attorneys Pelayo Duran and Roderick Hannah represent Fuller. Duran tells 8 On Your Side’s Better Call Behnken that clients like Fuller are providing a needed service for society to ensure that websites are ADA compliant and accessible to all.

“It’s a very good thing for society that plaintiffs like Ms. Fuller are providing,” Duran said. “I want to make sure you understand that it’s not about attacking small businesses.”

Fuller has gone after big names, such as Sephora, Helzberg Diamonds, The Home Depot and Chick-fil-A, claiming their websites are not ADA compliant. Some of her recent cases are against the Clearwater shoe store, an activewear boutique in Orlando called Sassy Pants and Tampa Sportservice Inc, the company that runs a store that sells Tampa Bay Lightning apparel inside Amalie Arena.

In most cases, private businesses can’t be sued for damages, under the ADA, says Anastasia Protopapadakis, an ADA defense attorney with the Miami firm Gray-Robinson. Businesses are sued for attorney fees and compliance. Businesses who agree to settlements or lose their cases must pay attorney fees and agree to become ADA compliant within a set amount of time, she said.Some legal experts, and even some advocates for the disabled say plaintiff lawyers are taking advantage of businesses that don’t realize they are doing anything wrong. Instead of reaching out to the businesses and asking for compliance, they sue.

Protopapadakis calls these lawsuits, “corporate extortion” and urges business owners to take a serious look at their websites and make sure that a person with visual or hearing disabilities can use their site.

She said most businesses faced with this type of lawsuit settle the case for attorney fees and compliance. That’s because that is cheaper than litigation.

Experts say these lawsuits are typically settled for between a couple of thousand dollars and $20,000 but could cost much more if defendants chose to fight in court.  Spearhead Multimedia can help you avoid this for usually under $1000.

“Any case appealed to the 11th Circuit has not gone the defendants’ way,” Protopapadakis said.

Protopapadakis said while plaintiffs don’t receive money for damages, some do receive money in exchange for keeping settlement details confidential.

Further frustrating businesses, there are no federal regulations to give businesses a checklist of what they must do to make their websites ADA accessible. The ADA was established in 1990, before websites like we have today. One thing is clear, though, courts have ruled that most websites must be accessible under the ADA.

While there are no clear regulations pertaining to websites in the ADA, courts have recognized web accessibility standards called Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 (WCAG), created by an international consortium of volunteers.

Some of the requirements:

  • Content must be coded for audio translation by screen-reader software.
  • There must be on-screen captions in videos for screen-reader software to read to the blind and descriptions for the deaf.
  • Sites must include accessible drop-down menus for those who use a keyboard as an alternative to a mouse.

These are requirements that every website should have under the ADA, said Chris Danielsen, of the National Federation of the Blind.

Danielsen, who is blind, said he uses screen-reader software every day to access the Internet and runs into problems on a regular basis because websites lack the appropriate coding.

However, he said mass lawsuits, especially those filed by one plaintiff with an attorney, concern him. He said negotiation and education should come first. He also feels that settlements should not be confidential, so the public knows the terms and knows the plan for accessibility for each site.

“Rather than spraying businesses with a firehose of litigation, a much more thoughtful and transparent approach would be a better form of advocacy,” Danielsen said.

Danielsen recommends business owners make sure their website developers know how to make your website compatible. There are several companies that specialize in website compatibility. The National Federation of the Blind has resources on its website to help businesses. Locally, the Lighthouse for the Blind can review websites and offer guidance.

So, who must be accessible? That depends on where the business is located. In the 11th Judicial Circuit, which includes Florida, websites that are connected to a physical store must be accessible to those who are visually and hearing impaired.

Accessibility can get costly, depending on what type of website you have, and whether you do it when you first develop the website or later, said Teresa Huber, president of Get ADA Accessible, which focuses on website accessibility. We can make your site accessible to those with disabilities for less than you think. Visit our Website Accessibility Facebook page for more details.

She said a simple, 10-page website would cost about $1,600 for a firm like hers to audit and identify accessibility issues. The cost of fixing the website would depend on deficiencies, she said. Spearhead Multimedia uses a different approach for less than $100, usually around $500. Get your estimate today.

One small business recently sued by Emily Fuller is Sassy Pants Active Wear Boutique in Orlando. Owner Donna Anthony says she hasn’t been served the lawsuit yet, but she is concerned.

“I never in my wildest dreams thought a website would have to have accommodations,” Anthony said. “My builder knew about ADA compliance for my physical location. My web developer did not.” At Spearhead Multimedia, we’re on the forefront of WCAG 2.1 AA and will help you make your website accessible to those with disabilities. Contact us today, it’s less expensive than you think.

Is Your Website ADA Compliant?

ada-compliance-decided-in-the-courts

Are you aware of the regulations regarding section 508 of the American Disabilities Act and the impact it has on your business website?

Poorly designed websites can create unnecessary barriers for people with disabilities, just as poorly designed buildings prevent some people with disabilities from entering. Access problems often occur because website designers mistakenly assume that everyone sees and accesses a webpage in the same way. This mistaken assumption can frustrate assistive technologies and their users. Accessible website design recognizes these differences and does not require people to see, hear, or use a standard mouse in order to access the information and services provided.

The start of a website lawsuit trend?

Winn-Dixie recently faced, and lost an ADA compliance lawsuit for its website, and it made for some pretty sensational headlines. Website accessibility is a hot topic right now, so every case that goes wrong for someone is bound to result in some pretty fanatical headlines. But should you actually be worried? In short — maybe.

So let’s try and make ADA compliance, who needs to be worried, and what you can do about it as simple to understand as possible. Full disclosure — I am not your lawyer, and nothing in here is legal advice.

What Does ADA Compliance Mean?

ADA is short for the Americans with Disabilities Act, which became law in 1990. It prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life. The ADA, at least for Title III (private sector businesses), only applies to companies that employ 15 or more persons.

In January 2018, some new federal regulations will take effect. All federal institutions’ websites must meet AA compliance on all items in WCAG 2.0 by this time. We’ll get into what that means a little later.

Why Is ADA Compliance Suddenly a Bigger Deal?

Legal precedent is changing, and ADA compliance related lawsuits are becoming more successful, and the courts are seeing more of them as a result. Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act pertains to private sector businesses. Lately, those protections are more frequently expanding into digital territory as web and mobile applications become more necessary in our day-to-day lives.

Who Needs To Be Compliant?

The general consensus right now is that any business considered a “public accommodation” should have an ADA compliant web presence.

“Public accommodation” could apply to most things depending on who is making the interpretation. Generally, however, this would refer to B2C, retail, or any business the general public should be able to use, understand and access easily.

The judgment against Winn-Dixie was determined after the courts felt that the website was too heavily integrated with the physical store presence. This could have been prompted by things like placing their weekly ad on the website.

What Do I Need To Do To Be Compliant?

Why that’s simple, just follow all 61 guidelines laid out in WCAG 2.0 to either AA or AAA level!

Sound scary? It’s not as bad as it seems. Your site probably already meets many of these rules and will not take a web developer very long to bring it up to par. However, there are some items that are much more difficult to fix, depending on the situation.

  • Text must meet a minimum contrast ratio against the background, which can significantly impact your design.
  • Your site must be fully navigable via keyboard only. This usually includes things like skip navigation buttons and can involve manually setting a tabindex everywhere.
  • Your site should be navigable with screen reader software. This can be difficult to test and can involve some arduous fixes similar to what is necessary for keyboard navigation.
  • Your site must handle text scaling up to 200% without causing horizontal scrolling or content-breaking layout issues. Once again, this may be more difficult to fix in some complex designs.

How Do I Check All Of This?

A variety of software can be used to test for ADA compliance.

  • WAVE is a good start, but can produce a lot of false positives, particularly for contrast ratio issues.
  • Lighthouse from Google Developers can help generate a report on potential issues.
  • Manual testing for contrast ratio using this calculator.
  • Manual testing with screen reader software
  • Manual testing with keyboard only navigation
  • Job Access With Speech (JAWS) is the most popular screen reader used by the blind. You can download a free trial for testing.

The automated tools will catch a lot of the simple issues, but manual testing is often still going to be required for nearly all websites if you want to ensure you are meeting requirements.

Hopefully, this sheds a little light on the situation and what it means for your business. Or, if you’re a web developer, how to be proactive to help your clients.

(Excerpted from Hackernoon)