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How to Avoid an ADA Compliance Website Lawsuit

Why is Having an ADA Compliant Website Important for Your Organization?

Having an accessible website allows residents and other website users with disabilities to have access to the pertinent information of the local government and the services it provides, regardless of the users’ technology or ability. Not only does having an accessible website benefit website visitors but accessibility increases participation and involvement. Residents are more aware of events and more willing to participate in local government when information is readily available to all.

What Level of Standards Does My Website Need to Comply To?

The current requirement for most local government entities is the Americans with Disabilities Act, Section 508. However, this is about to change. The Department of Justice (DOJ) recently explained that it is considering proposing WCAG 2.0 Level AA as the accessibility standard for websites and web content. The DOJ noted that WCAG 2.0 has become the internationally recognized benchmark for web accessibility. The Revised 508 Standards are based on WCAG 2.0.

To stay ahead of the changing legislation, we recommend that local governments focus on both the WCAG 2.0 Level AA and the ADA Section 508 requirements.

Legal Ramifications

Web accessibility is becoming a hot topic in the courts. The number of website accessibility lawsuits where plaintiffs with a disability could not use websites because they were not accessible to them filed in federal court under Title III of the ADA exploded in 2018 to at least 2,258. That is an increase of 177% from 814 such lawsuits in 2017.

The sharp increase in lawsuits seems to be financially-motivated. In one example of a settlement paid by a municipality, the settlement payment of $15,700 was split with $1,200 going to the plaintiff and $14,500 went to the attorneys.

Experts believe there will be a continued increase in lawsuits related to website accessibility for several years.

What Can You Do to Protect Your Municipality?

Below are four simple steps you can take to help protect your organization from a website accessibility and ADA Compliance lawsuit.

1. Include an Accessibility Statement on Your Website

Let your users know that accessibility is a priority to your organization and you are working on making the website accessible to everyone, regardless of technology or ability.  To do this, add an accessibility statement to your website stating as such. 

Your accessibility statement should let users know that your organization is working on auditing your website to meet WCAG 2.0 standards, contact information for someone who is having issues accessing your website, and let users know that you will regularly audit the website to ensure it continues to maintain compliance standards. See our accessibility statement as an example.

2. Complete a Website Accessibility Audit

Once your accessibility statement has been added to your website it is time to begin auditing your website. There are automatic scanning tools and plugins available, however these tools may not provide the most accurate and in-depth results for all accessibility factors and standards. We typically recommend an audit by a live user (a human testing your website manually) or that you have a professional web development firm well versed in ADA compliance and accessibility issues complete the audit for you.

3. Use Audit Results to Implement Changes & Monitor the Site for Compliance Regularly

Once your ADA website compliance audit is complete and any necessary modifications are made to meet accessibility requirements, it is vital to regularly audit the website to ensure it is meeting the latest WCAG requirements and that new content and website additions made by staff are also meeting the required standard. We recommend a full website audit at least every 12 months.

4. Train Staff on Website Accessibility Factors and Common Failures

Many government and municipal websites are constantly being updated by staff within the organization. With updated meeting minutes, calendar events, event galleries and new or updated organization information it is easy for simple steps to meet accessibility standards to fall through the cracks while these updates are being made. Be sure your staff is aware of common issues with web accessibility and how to avoid them (for example, use relevant and descriptive alt tags on all images, avoid ambiguous link text such as “click here”…). Visit the Seven Common Website Accessibility Mistakes blog post to learn more.

How Accessible is Your Website?

The GovUnity Website Evaluation assists municipalities in identifying how well their website meets the needs of their residents. Website Accessibility, along with other checklist items are evaluated to provide a Total Website Assessment Report. The evaluation provides municipalities with feedback on areas that could be improved to assist the user experience and the time savings realized by the municipal staff from an optimized website.

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