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ADA is a very broad and wide-ranging piece of legislation that covers a lot of different aspectsNew Window of accessibility for people with disabilities. The part of the ADA that affects the way that businesses serve customers is called “Title III,” so you’ll hear accessibility legislation referred to “ADA Title III”New WindowADA Title III covers public areas, like schooling and transportation, and “public accommodations.” “Public accommodations” is a legal phrase that includesNew Window businesses, restaurants, hotels, theaters, doctor's offices, pharmacies, retail stores, museums, libraries, parks, daycare centers, and almost every place of work.
The rise of ADA website compliance lawsuits
ADA’s relevance to web accessibility isn’t just theoretical. Since 2017, the number of ADA title III-related lawsuits has skyrocketed. In 2017, 816 ADA Title III lawsuits were filed, but in 2018 that number rose to over 2,200 cases. That’s a rise of 180%,New Window and it’s only the tip of the iceberg. It doesn’t reveal the increasing number of ADA legal complaints and lawyers’ demand letters that were filed against businesses with non-accessible websites in the last few years, because they never become part of the public record.Experts estimateNew Window that approximately 40,000 demand letters were sent in 2018, and 2019 has peaked with over 100,000 demand letters and over 10,000 lawsuits.In 2020, 265,000 demand lettersNew Window were sent. This represents a steep incline in legal actions pursued following the notice of non-accessible websites on the internet. The number of Title lll ADA lawsuits also climbed in 2021, with at least 11,452 federal filings documented. Overall, web accessibility lawsuits have seen a 320% increaseNew Window over the past eight years.
Who has to be ADA compliant?
There’s a common misbelief that ADA only applies to very large corporations, but that’s a serious mistake. All types and all sizes of businesses have to comply with ADA legislation, for their customers, and for their employees if there are over 15 employees. That means that ADA affects:
Places of entertainment like theaters, movie theaters, and concert halls
Restaurants and eateries
Small and medium businesses of all types
Local government offices, employment agencies, and labor unions
Is ADA compliance mandatory for websites?
It was clear from the beginning that ADA affected every kind of business in the physical realm, but it’s less obvious that it covers websites and online spaces. The 1990 bill obviously did not predict today’s huge breadth of internet use. The past decade brought a range of rulings from the U.S. courts, with some insistingNew Window that websites do not qualify as a "public place of accommodation."However, as the internet became more important and websites played a bigger role in the way that consumers interact with businesses, the way that ADA is applied to web accessibility began to change.New Window Since 2017, a clear consensus emerged that ADA also covers the online world. Disability rights activists,New Window legal scholars,New Window and court rulings have agreed that websites, internet portals, and online stores also need to be accessible for people with disabilities. In September 2018, Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd wrote an official letter to members of Congress that said “The Department first articulated its interpretation that the ADA applies to public accommodations' websites over 20 years ago. This interpretation is consistent with the ADA's...requirement that the goods, services, privileges, or activities provided by places of public accommodation be equally accessible to people with disabilities." Today, U.S. courts apply ADA accessibility requirements to the online domain, which means that websites should comply with ADA rules.
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