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New Class-Action Lawsuits Lurking: Tips for ADA Compliance on Websites, While Doing the Right Thing

Recently, several of our California-based clients received letters from attorneys who are allegedly representing disabled persons, stating that those clients’ investor relations websites are not fully WGAC and ADA compliant.

With each communication, the attorneys specifically cite “not compliant for blind persons.” In some cases, they are requesting remediation within a certain timeframe. In other cases, however, real monetary damages were sought.

Is this ambulance chasing or a real problem?

According to the CDC, 61 million Americans live with disabilities. The U.S. Census Bureau says that almost 19 million Americans have difficulty seeing or hearing.  Many websites, including investor relations websites, do not currently make accommodations for these users.

For blind people or those with low vision, images without text equivalents, certain fonts and colors, and PDF documents can make websites difficult to navigate. A recent article from NBC News details efforts by disability advocates, including that “federal lawsuits claiming websites are not compliant with the ADA rose by 12 percent last year.” 

Companies, publicly traded or not, should do whatever they can to provide a solution, so as not to leave anyone behind, as well as to be compliant and reduce the threat of legal action.  Of course, regardless of the threat of legal action, it’s the right thing to do.

But where does one start? 

First, some basic definitions:

  • WGAC – Web Content Accessibility Guidelines – Developed in cooperation with individuals and organizations around the world, WGAC has a goal of providing a single shared standard for web content accessibility.
  • ADA – Americans with Disabilities Act – Put into law in 1990, the ADA seeks to provide equal opportunity for individuals with disabilities.

Second, there are several tools to determine how closely a website is to being compliant:

  • The WAVE Web Accessibility Evaluation Tool allows a company to identify accessibility and WCAG errors. Running a URL through the tool will provide summary of accessibility errors.
  • Similarly, Web Accessibility by Level Access allows a company to determine the “health” of a site. There are many others, some free and some paid. (We are not endorsing the veracity of any.)

Once a determination has been made that changes or additions are necessary to ensure WGAC and ADA compliance, here are some practical tips:

  • Take a look at the WGAC guidelines to familiarize yourself with the requirements.
  • Have your website developer (both for your corporate and IR sites) run your sites through a tool like those listed above to see exactly what changes need to be made.
  • Considering purchasing code (usually a widget) that helps makes your website more compliant. There are several, and again, we are not recommending any particular vendor. Be aware, however, that these widgets are not without issues (see the NBC News article referenced above and this one at Forbes.com) and are not a panacea.
  • Recognize that if your corporate site is accessible, but your IR site is not, you are out of compliance. Similarly, if the home page of your corporate site and IR site are accessible, but the pages beneath that are not, you are out of compliance. Even if everything looks great, but you haven’t remediated PDF documents posted to the site, you are out of compliance.
  • Remember that websites are not static.  Any time a change is made to content, links, colors, etc. you run the risk of non-compliance.
  • Work regularly with your legal team to ensure you’re on top of all current and future regulations and requirements.

Laurie Berman, lberman@pondel.com