United States

Recent suits raise the stakes on ADA compliance of e-commerce websites

Accessibility and inclusion are good for customers and your business


Late last year, the National Retail Federation published a warning regarding an increasing frequency of lawsuits targeting retailers for failing to adequately meet Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliance on their websites. The claims indicated the websites were not accessible, particularly to visually impaired consumers. We have seen a recent uptick in actual and threatened litigation in the past year, as these consumers demand access to websites.

While there had been conflicting court rulings on the application of ADA to public websites, a common theme was that a website would be required to be accessible only if there was either a tie to a brick-and-mortar location or if the website was fundamental to receiving the services available from a company.

A January 16, 2019, ruling by the Ninth Court of Appeals, however, could encourage more legal action as courts apply further scrutiny on retail websites deemed ADA noncompliant and lacking WCAG 2.0 web-accessibility measures.

Benefits from proactive compliance

While further clarity is needed related to the accessibility ruling, middle market brands and retailers should act now to ensure their websites are ADA compliant. Being proactive may be beneficial for multiple reasons, including:

  • First and foremost, it allows a company to be more inclusive of potential customer populations and develop new customer relationships. In addition, the refreshed accessibility changes could provide a better overall experience for all customers.
  • In the event of litigation, evidence that a retailer has evaluated their site-accessibility shortcomings and begun remediation may reduce potential litigation damages and legal fees.
  • Lastly, when developing new sites, proactively building accessibility standards within the web development process adds minimal cost, and is generally far less intrusive than remediation of sites that were not built with accessibility in mind. A little extra work up front can save a lot of extra work later.  

Where to start

Assessing whether your website is ADA compliant begins with a thorough evaluation of your entire site, including content, menus, forms navigation and more. Some key areas to examine include:

  • Tabs – Is your tab-through function enabled and aligned with a screen reader so navigation is functional for all users?
  • Fly-outs or pop-ups – Are these images and menus screen-reader compliant?
  • Images – Are images coded with alternative text to help identify what the images are and their meaning?

Engaging a third-party provider specializing in e-commerce site assessments may be a wise choice to complete your evaluation, especially if internal company resources lack specific knowledge in this area. Following the assessment and recommendations, the provider may also deliver the necessary support and systems changes to your website, as well as provide testing and further mitigation. It is important to address these concerns as soon as possible. Being proactive will not only make your website and business more inclusive and appealing to your customers, it will ward off costly litigation and business interruption later.

For additional information on technology strategies to help transform your retail business, visit our digital transformation page.

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