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SPECIAL ALERT – Website Compliance Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

With more people doing business online due to the pandemic, ensuring that your business has a robust online presence is more important than ever. However, there are legal pitfalls associated with business websites that should be addressed because as the old saying goes, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

One of these legal pitfalls that businesses can unknowingly become ensnared in deal with website compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”). Just as your business has a physical storefront that you open to customers, your business’ website also invites the public in to shop for the goods and services that your business provides. And just as your store must be accessible to disabled persons, your website must as well – or you could face costly litigation.

Under the ADA and California’s Unruh Act, disabled persons are entitled by law to access all of the services and benefits that are available to the public, including websites. Under federal law, a business is required to provide “effective communication” access to people with disabilities (which includes people who are vision or hearing impaired). Your company’s website is considered one of the services and benefits that you make available to the public. California’s Unruh Act also requires that businesses provide equal access to websites, and carries with it stiff penalties, including fines and, if a lawsuit is filed, an award of the disabled person’s legal fees associated with enforcement of the law.

As you could imagine, there is a growing cottage industry in California of professional disabled plaintiffs, who view themselves as “crusaders” for the disabled community, and their lawyers who seek out businesses to target. Generally, the first time you hear that the person is even aware of your business is when you are served with a lawsuit.

As more and more people shop online due to the Coronavirus pandemic, there are more of these lawsuits being filed. The targets of these lawsuits include retail stores, restaurants, medical offices, entertainment venues, hotels, and financial institutions, to name a few. In short, if you have a “brick & mortar” store that is open to the public, your website could be targeted for one of these lawsuits.

Fortunately, you can take steps to now to ensure that your business’ website complies with the requirements of the ADA and Unruh Act. But compliance with the technicalities of the law is generally not for the inexperienced: The laws are technical and must be specifically complied with in order to avoid becoming a target.

Of course, making sure that your company’s website is ADA compliant is good business as well: Disabled persons shop online and will do business on those websites which are accessible. Making your website ADA compliant means that it will be easy to navigate for potential customers, which is good for your bottom line.

The attorneys at VRS can assist with your business law needs – including reviewing what steps are necessary to bring your business into compliance with ADA and Unruh Act laws.  Please contact us if you have any questions.