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Business Websites and the Disabled: What You Need to Know

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) and Unruh Civil Rights Act (UCRA) were laws adopted in order to assist the disabled and provide fair and equal access to goods and services. The laws enacted include various incentives for attorneys and private citizens to enforce the law, including statutory penalties and attorneys’ fees provisions. Many small business owners first find out about these laws when they are served with a lawsuit. Of course, these businesses feel unfairly targeted by “mills” that use disabled clients who, in some cases, have literally filed hundreds of lawsuits claiming sometimes minuscule violations of the strict ADA, FEHA, and UCRA rules.

While these lawsuits usually involve issues like the width of a bathroom door, slope of a ramp, or proper signage, there is a new issue that businesses with an internet presence need to be aware of – lawsuits based on your website not being accessible to the disabled.

These lawsuits usually involve the visually-impaired who require special screen-reading software to read website content using a computer. Depending on how your business’ website is designed, it may or may not work with these screen-reading programs, barring a person who is visually-impaired from equal access to your company’s goods and services. According to some studies, 70% of websites have significant accessibility and usability issues for disabled users. This violation of the equal access laws could subject your business to a lawsuit, which could end up costing thousands of dollars in legal fees, statutory penalties, and additional costs to repair the problems.

The good news is that you can take steps to avoid being targeted. If your business already has an online presence, check with your website developer/designer or your IT consultant to see if your business’ website is “ADA compliant.”

If you are looking to develop a new website or redesign your existing website, include in any agreement with the website developer/designer (1) a provision which ensures that the website will be ADA compliant; and (2) an indemnity and defense provision in case your business is named as a defendant in one of these lawsuits.

The attorneys at Vogt, Resnick & Sherak, LLP (“VRS”) are experienced in drafting and negotiating agreements to help mitigate risk to your business in the event of a lawsuit claiming violations of ADA, FEHA or OCRA rules. Please contact VRS with any questions on this topic.