The Bill to Shield Companies From Web Accessibility Lawsuits Has Gone Down. What Are the Legal Implications for American Businesses?

The Bill to Shield Companies From Web Accessibility Lawsuits Has Gone Down. What Are the Legal Implications for American Businesses?

January 26, 2021 Off By Glespynorson

The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed more than 30 years ago and did not have adequate guidelines to define website accessibility. That is why a bill was proposed to create the Online Accessibility Act (H.R. 8478), which would lay out the guidelines for website accessibility.

However, the bill failed to pass when the 116th Congress session ended on 3 January 2021. It was intended to limit a plaintiff’s rights in case of a web accessibility lawsuit, so it is a good thing that it did not get passed.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) had considered issuing regulations regarding accessibility on the Internet for a long time but finally withdrew them in 2017. The DOJ stated that the ADA already has the appropriate interpreted guidance on the topic of website accessibility.

The proposed bill was a ruse in disguise as it would have made amendments to the ADA to shield non-compliant businesses from accessibility lawsuits. The bill also intended to set back the standards of website accessibility to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 instead of the WCAG 2 .1 standards.

The latter is a more recent and technically advanced standard that provides specific details about how to make a website accessible for people with disabilities. There are WCAG 2.2 guidelines in the pipeline as well, which may get finalized by the end of this year.

However, the proposed bill was intended to give business and website owners the leeway to use the old standards as a shield to avoid compliance. The bill would have also limited the extent to which ADA applies to commercial and business websites.

In a nutshell, it would have truly limited a plaintiff’s ability to sue a non-compliant business website in the civil court until and unless they have taken the following administrative actions to remedy the situation.

  • They would have to alert the business owner or operator that they are unable to access the business website.
  • They will only be able to file a complaint with the DOJ if the business owner or operator does not respond to the plaintiff or makes the website compliant within 90 days.
  • They would have to wait for 180 days for the DOJ to determine whether the business website violates website accessibility.

The National Disability Rights Network opposed the bill stating that it would only allow businesses to postpone their action to become compliant with the law. The problem is that most companies try to hide behind the fact that they do not know what they must do to make their website compliant.

Website accessibility is not just a matter of legal compliance, but it is also the right thing to do. Business owners must stop and think about how a person with a disability can access their website and purchase from them. Making a website accessible to most people with disabilities is neither an expensive nor a difficult task anymore.

Thanks to modern accessibility solution providers like accessiBe, websites can become ADA and WCAG compliant with a few lines of JavaScript coding. Unlike before, a business owner does not have to spend thousands of dollars to hire designers and developers to make their website accessible. Tools like LightHouse can help you analyze your website performance and UX insight to check for accessibility levels.

As for the businesses that hide behind the fact that the ADA does not contain any official guideline, most American courts have accepted WCAG 2.1 AA levels as the acceptable standards for Web accessibility.

It does not take a lot of effort for a business owner to review their website for compliance. So they should do that more instead of completely relying on a third party to design and manage their website. If it takes a lawsuit to make them aware that their business technology is non-compliant, so be it.

The bill was going to severely restrict the court’s power to penalize businesses with non-compliant websites. It also did not contain any details about workplace websites or software used by employers to manage their workforce, including applicants or employees with disabilities. Therefore, it is a good thing that it has failed to pass.

Almost everyone agrees that businesses in America should be subject to Title III of the ADA as a source of guidance for accessibility statutes and guidelines. Title III of the ADA clearly states that it applies to all places of accommodation, including businesses that are open to the public.

That means the ADA already covers business websites and mobile applications. Therefore, a bill that restricts disability rights certainly does not belong in the American judicial system.