Website accessibility laws in the US

There are two legal requirements for website accessibility in the United States. The ADA applies to all websites, and Section 508 applies to websites receiving federal funding.

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

All US websites are subject to Title III of the ADA, which prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities. ADA lawsuits concerning websites have exploded in recent years, increasing from 57 in 2015 to 2,285 in 2018 (source).

Nearly every well-known online retailer – including Target, Amazon, and Dominoes – have faced accessibility lawsuits. Target settled theirs for $6m. In many states, law firms are now actively searching for inaccessible websites to sue.

The ADA was written in 1990, and was never designed to cover websites. Being vaguely defined and inconsistently enforced, there is considerable disagreement over exactly what websites must do to comply with it. The closest the US has to a consensus is the WCAG 2.0 AA standard. In many settlements the US Department of Justice endorsed WCAG 2.0 AA as appropriate, and conveniently this is exactly the same standard required for Section 508 compliance (see below).

Under the ADA, a prevailing plaintiff is not entitled to damages but may recover reasonable attorneys’ fees. Recent ADA website lawsuits include:

  • 2018. Bishop v. Amazon.com, Inc.
  • 2018. Braulio Thorne v. Rolex Watch
  • 2018. Luc Burbon v. Fox News Network
  • 2018. Maria Mendizabal, et al. v. Burger King
  • 2017 – 2018. Maria Mendizabal v. Nike Inc.
  • Sullivan v. CNN America, Inc.
  • Thorne v. Porsche Design of America Inc.
  • Lopez v. The Hershey Company, Inc.
  • Lopez v. Nintendo of America, Inc.
  • Duncan v. Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group, Inc.
  • Camacho v. Bed Bath Beyond Inc.
  • Sullivan v. Dow Jones Company, Inc.
  • Robles v. Domino’s Pizza
  • National Association of the Deaf v. Hulu
  • 2012. National Federation of the Blind v. Walt Disney

Example settlements

Netflix

Netflix agreed to pay $755,000 to plaintiffs’ lawyers and $40,000 for the decree. They were required to put captions on all new videos within 30 days in 2014, reducing this to within 7 days by 2016.

Disney

Disney agreed to pay up to $1,550,000 in attorney fees, and to make substantial changes to their website.

HRB Digital

H&R Block was required to pay $45,000 to their plaintiffs, and a $55,000 civil penalty. They were also compelled to make their website accessible by their next tax filing term.

Section 508

Section 508 applies to federal websites and any websites that are receiving federal funds. It does not generally cover websites operated by state or local governments.

Section 508 used to consistent of a set of accessibility requirements that were unique to the United States, but as of January 2018 Section 508 follows the international WCAG 2.0 standard. The upside of this is that accessibility standards are now almost the same internationally, with WCAG becoming the de-facto standard for almost everyone.

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