Shoot First Drive-By Website ADA Accessibility Lawsuits Are Mean Spirited

Shoot First Drive-By Website ADA Accessibility Lawsuits Are Mean Spirited

 

It would seem as though the latest craze in the USA is beating up people and businesses when they are already down. Small businesses are truly struggling to survive.  Suing them for failing to provide an accessible website, without forewarning, is ruthless and unacceptable.

Drive-By ADA Lawsuits Give Accessibility a Bad Reputation

Accusing a small business website owner of failing to serve your needs by slapping them with a lawsuit as your introduction is insensitive and cold-hearted.

When law firms represent unscrupulous, mean spirited plaintiffs who file bulk accessibility lawsuits, it’s obvious that helping disabled website visitors is not the motivating factor.

The latest example of drive-by ADA accessibility lawsuits made the news recently when a blind man from Colorado,  David Katt, who is represented by  New Jersey law firm, Marcus & Zelman, filed over 50 lawsuits against small businesses in Colorado.

The Colorado businesses claimed there were no requests or correspondence between the plaintiff  to the business owner, who may not be aware there is an issue. Most businesses with websites are happy to help when given the opportunity.

Shoot first drive-by ADA lawsuits are unfortunately common practice. It’s unkind and unethical.

Accessibility professionals do not support attack first, remediate later demands.

Small Businesses Can’t Afford to Be Sued

An ADA lawsuit for a website is the kiss of death for a small online business, or startup. As much as accessibility advocates try to educate anyone considering owning a website for their business, the reality is that most view accessibility as not important, too expensive to implement, or is taken care of automatically by their theme, host, plugin, or widget.

It’s a shock when they learn their website may be legally required to meet accessibility compliance. In countries where accessibility laws are yet to be created or enforced, other laws addressing equal rights and non-discrimination may apply.

Website Owners Are Responsible for Their Websites

Passing the buck is not helpful.  

Owning a business anywhere is a venture that includes protecting your assets, meeting local, state, and federal laws, and providing a safe and secure customer experience. This is true for brick and mortar businesses as well as digital.

However, with websites, there is no insurance company that will cover you if you are sued for not having an accessible website.

There is no protection if you rely on poor advice such as accessibility plugins and widgets that do not require a business to build an accessible website.

User friendly websites do not exclude people with disabilities who require the use of assistive devices such as screen readers.  Research into how we use websites has shown that many people find that simply changing their accessibility settings on their computer devices helps them read, listen or browse in various environments where it is better to turn off the sound or the lighting makes reading difficult.

In other words, web accessibility is not just another set of laws or policies to be enforced.

Inclusive web design practices provide conveniences that everyone can enjoy.

Be Proactive with Website Accessibility

There is no substitute for accessibility testing.

Should your business be sent a demand letter or served with an ADA lawsuit, it helps you to have your ducks in a row by providing proof that your website was tested by an accessibility specialist or is in the process of remediation.

Educate yourself on website accessibility by seeking out trusted professionals who work in the field.

Avoid unscrupulous marketing tactics designed to scare the hell out of you.

Accessibility advocates are ready to help you make your business a success and will fight for you because they care.

Photo Credit by Scott Graham on Unsplash

One Line of Code Will Not Prevent an ADA Accessibility Lawsuit

 

Businesses looking for an easy accessibility fix are purchasing widgets and overlays claiming to fix all their website accessibility problems by simply inserting one line of code.

One company getting attention announced receving 12 million in funding to create a product that promises to make websites accessible through AI.

Their marketing cleverly avoids the fact that a judge requires that the website be audited by an accessibility specialist who tests the website for compliance through proper testing procedures and with the knowledge of what is required to meet accepted legal and guidelines standards.

Applying an automatic accessibility solution does not prevent ADA demand letters, written complaints, class action lawsuits and accessibility lawsuits by plaintiffs facing discrimination because the website is not built for them to use.

Example of an accessibility overlay that shows user choices.
Example of an overlay.

Taking the Easy Way Out of Accessibility Design

With automatic solutions, no longer does a company need to hire designers and developers trained in website accessibility compliance. There is no need for proper testing because the app may do that for you every day. They claim to know the accessibility laws for every country, state and province, so you don’t have to.

The most popular automatic accessibility solution claims it may even prevent an ADA lawsuit by updating your accessibility statement, clearly admitting the website is not tested with disabled people.

It is not tested or maintained by an Accessibility Specialist either.

If there is an issue for anyone trying to use the website, you will never know how to fix it and besides, for the money you’re paying for the automatic repair job, you can’t be sued, right?

I hear from small business owners who don’t have the money to pay for an accessibility specialist (even someone inexpensive like me.)

They are convinced they are safe by purchasing accessibility overlays or widgets, such as one that charges $490 to $3490 a year.

Remember, one line of code means no customer journey to understand how disabled people use your website.

Why bother to pay developers to properly code ARIA for screen readers if an app will make the page work automatically?  It does do that, right?

You checked, right?

You know how to check this, right?

It amazes me that anyone would put their company in the hands of one line of code that promises to make the website work for everyone, regardless of any physical, mental or emotional disability or impairment, permanent or temporary.

Do you know how to present your content for someone with dyslexia? How about autism? People who are colorblind?  Do you know how your web pages work on an Apple iPhone with accessibility features turned on? How about an Android?  What if your user has no mouse? No voice? No sight? No hearing? No short term memory?

You may feel that there is no way you can possibly make a website work universally for everyone. This is actually a goal by some companies that do not wish to discriminate. They accept the challenge. They hire accessibility specialists who are advocates for the disabled.

AI solutions should not be your first choice if your goal is to own a website that is open for business for people.

Rebuild, Reorganize, Remain Calm

Rebuild, Reorganize, Remain Calm

 

I have a great deal of empathy for my clients who need help making their websites meet today’s rules for everything. Because those rules for everything change every week.

As someone who is hired to help businesses build usable, accessible and functional websites, the least I can do is make sure that my own act as an example.

Anyone who works as an SEO, digital marketer, web designer, software development and content writer, to name a few areas, are also the first people to be challenged by some know-it-all who wants to point out your website defects.

I dreamed I was Dolores, the AI human-bot from WestWorld, who rebelled against stupid humans and made copies of herself to enact her plan for revenge.

When I woke up, I rebuilt my business website.

Then I built two other websites.

After testing 5 WordPress themes marketed to be accessible, I settled on one called “Inclusive“. While I see a few things I need to dig into the source code to fix, overall it was the only theme that was easy to set up, had options I wanted, was super accessible out of the gate, clean and didn’t require a brainiac developer to help me make it work.

Creative Vision Web Consulting

Creative Vision Web Consulting is my business website. You are here. I removed, culled and killed content and pages nobody cared about, including me.

Header section of the Kim Krause Berg website.

Kim Krause Berg

KimKrauseBerg.com is a domain that used to point to my business website but I decided that with Covid19 and the present status of the world, I began to think worry about my life, career and contributions to the web industries in which I slaved over served over the years. I built what I call my “legacy” site. It documents my career and accomplishments, writings and professional documents that people ask for. It also is home to the return of my old Cre8pc blog, only this time I don’t need to be anything but who I am. I’m moving my Medium articles there.

The User is Out There

TheUserisOutThere.com is a new site named after my column that first appeared in SearchNewsCentral.com. It was also the name of my blog at Creative Vision Web Consulting. I have a ridiculous amount of resources on several computers, clouds, apps and notebooks. Some of them are helpful. The resources on accessibility and usability, with some SEO, are being added to this website. If you have a resource you want added, I can be bribed with cash.

All three websites are continuously tested and fussed over and will never, ever, be completely finished or meet the scrutiny of a guy named Edward.

An Urgent Focus on Website Accessibility

An Urgent Focus on Website Accessibility

 

Website accessibility quietly lived alongside website usability for years until recent inclusive web design practices and giant leaps in computer technology made it possible for nearly everyone to use and enjoy the internet.

This upped the game for website designers and developers.

Now we must know how to make websites and mobile apps work for all kinds of people and all the ways they access the internet. Assistive devices such as screen readers, text to speech apps, audible books, mouse-less keyboard navigation and visual aids such as colors and font sizes are all tied to website accessibility design.

Corporations are already well aware of the rise in website ADA accessibility lawsuits. While not new, the spike in the number of lawsuits the past several years was a warning shot that unfortunately didn’t reach small business owners. Local businesses that sell products and services online are being sued because their websites can not be used by blind or sight impaired people.

Accessibility Barriers

Website barriers to entry have been misunderstood or ignored by website owners until they receive the shock of a written complaint by a law office.

We have known for years that optimizing web pages for accessibility provided an added boast for organic SEO practices, such as adding alt attributes to images or the proper use of header tags. And yet a vast amount of websites do not have alt attributes or properly ordered header tags. Both of these are tremendous aids for screen reader software.

A Word of Caution When Seeking Website Accessibility Help

Testing websites and software applications is a specialty performed by trained people who know what to look for and why. Free automated testing tools are helpful, but not equal in value. These tools may find 25% of the accessibility issues but the remaining 75% are only discovered by manual testing.

Formal accessibility testing by specialists provides feedback to see if your website violates Section 508 requirements in the USA, or legally enforceable accessibility requirements in countries such as the UK and Canada. In addition, specialists test for WCAG2.1 guidelines and compliance for websites and documents that must be accessible, such as PDF’s. For this, you need to hire someone trained in accessibility testing and remediation.

Accessibility testing is important for all computer devices, including mobile, as well as operating systems and browsers.

If you find yourself being sued by someone because your website is not accessible, please contact me. My partner, Jonathan Hochman, is an expert witness. I am certified in accessibility. Together we can guide you through the next steps.

For 2020, the best approach is to be prepared. Ask me to check your website to see if it is at risk of an ADA lawsuit. It is far less expensive to be prepared.

For additional information about website accessibility, I have written several articles. Here are few:

Photo by You X Ventures on Unsplash