Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires public accommodations to provide goods and services accessible to disabled persons. While most Title III litigation has centered around access to physical facilities, over the past few years, many companies have received demand letters alleging that their websites do not meet ADA accessibility standards. For years, the question of ADA coverage of websites and specific design requirements has been very uncertain. In March, the Department of Justice (DOJ) which enforces Title III issued guidance confirming that businesses offering online goods or services to the public must take steps to assure that their websites are accessible to disabled persons.
The guidance provides a list of common website accessibility barriers, including poor contrasts, use of color to provide information, lack of text alternatives on pictures, lack of captioning on videos, and mouse-only navigation. The guidance notes that DOJ has not issued website access regulations but points to Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) and Section 508 standards (used for federal government websites) as ways to assure compliance.
This guidance raises several legal questions that the federal courts have not addressed. Does Title III actually apply to websites as opposed to physical facilities? Assuming it does, will DOJ attempt to use the WCAG and Section 508 standards as binding legal requirements? Some of the recommended measures, such as captioning all videos used on websites, could prove extremely expensive for companies. It is likely that plaintiffs’ lawyers who have built their practices on threatening businesses with ADA Title III lawsuits will use the DOJ guidance to issue another round of claims against businesses with websites deemed not to meet these best practices.