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Digital ADA Lawsuits Rose 15% with 74% Targeting Ecom in 2021

David Gibson

2021 Digital / Website ADA Lawsuit Statistics Show Continued Rise

UsableNet has published it’s 2021 findings report on digital ADA cases in the US. The study provides statistics on ADA lawsuits alleging that websites, mobile apps, or digital content fail to meet WCAG standards. Websites have been the target of the majority of cases.

The study finds that plaintiffs continued filing lawsuits at a rate of 10 per day in 2021. These include federal and state lawsuits, such as California in particular, where the Unruh Act also includes monetary damages. 

Demand Letters - What This Study Excludes

Demand letters that threaten litigation and look to extract easy settlement revenue for plaintiff firms are not recorded. There is no data collection on these. There is no question amongst people in the industry that these far outnumber federal or state lawsuits. This practice, which most would describe as extortion, takes very little time and costs very little to generate. Settlements for most targeting smaller and midsized businesses (the vast majority) range in the $5K- $20K range. With each demand letter, such firms are simply printing money. 

Which States Have The Highest Rates of Digital ADA Lawsuits?

The top states where such lawsuits have been filed include New York, California, and Florida. New York more than doubled second place California. New York’s Southern District has been most active. 

Which Types of Businesses Received the Most ADA Lawsuits?

E-Commerce companies have received 74% of complaints. According to the report, 412 of those on the Internet Top 500 list have received digital-based ADA complaints over the past 4 years. Those with a physical location (nexus) are particularly vulnerable. And e-commerce make good targets because such websites tend to be particularly large, complex and are more likely to utilize non-compliant 3rd party components. 

The study also finds that smaller online retailers are increasingly being targeted. Most larger companies have already been through this process and now have mature accessibility programs in place. The pandemic also introduced many new and smaller online retail businesses. 

Companies Hit With Multiple Digital ADA Lawsuits

While these may be seen as nuisance suits to larger companies, for small to mid sized businesses such actions can be very disruptive and costly. And there are many accounts of businesses that settle one suit only to get another right after. Sometimes for the same website. Others for mobile apps or other websites under the company’s portfolio. 

The Solution Remains: Make Your Websites, Apps and Content Accessible and ADA Compliant

The de facto standard for ADA compliance is the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. Companies can hire 3rd party experts in not only web accessibility, but also website coding to audit websites, apps and content to reveal violations. What’s key to understand is that automated testing solutions can only detect ~30% of WCAG issues. Human testing is essential to get a complete accessibility audit. The best providers also provide effective remediation guidance in their reporting that will reduce the time and cost of remediation. Some that are also website developers, can also provide remediation for smaller businesses without an in-house web development team. 

Avoid Overlay Widgets and Toolbars

Overlay solutions on websites are identified by an accessibility icon in the lower left or right of a page. Selecting the icon triggered the overlay and typically opens a toolbar tray to adjust the display and some includes screen readers. While these may sound like a silver bullet and helpful to users, they simply are not. They provide quick and seemingly less expensive band-aid solutions using java script to “overlay” existing code. They however fail to fix the underlying code and provide the legal protection claimed. As people with disabilities will also share, they tend to block or inhibit their native assistive technologies such as screen readers. They also cost more over time - especially considering the lawsuits that the icons themselves likely attract, as they now serve as flags that say “my website is not accessible”. Read more on that here.

Looking Ahead: Web Accessibility and Digital ADA Cases in 2022

Businesses with digital properties that fail to meet WCAG standards will continue to face increased risk of demand letters and lawsuits. Congress isn’t likely to update the ADA or otherwise pass laws that would reduce current legal exposure. Case law is becoming increasingly established in affirming that websites and digital properties are subject to the ADA, so businesses have little choice but to invest in digital accessibility. 

Businesses that are tuned into the mood of consumers and their focus on social issues related to DEI, recognize the value of demonstrating their digital inclusiveness. Also, people with disabilities and an aging Baby Boomer generation make up a significant market. And good accessibility equates to good user experiences that benefit all users and enable increased online sales and conversions.