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Can a Blind Person Read Your Website?

If not, you may have a problem.

Many retailers, restaurants, and other places of public accommodation are familiar with their obligations to provide disabled patrons equal access to their brick-and-mortar places of business.  A lesser known fact is that "places of business" can also include websites as well, and that equal access to those websites must also be provided.  This misunderstanding is underscored by the fact that lawsuits filed alleging website violations of Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) continue to rise.

The most common basis for these suits are websites that do not enable visually-impaired guests to use screen reading software.   Screen reader technology converts website text to audio, and reads the contents of a web page to a visually-impaired user.  Having a website that is compatible with screen readers can go a long way towards eliminating or minimizing the risk of being sued for a non-compliant website.  Not having "alt text," captions, or subtitles for videos, pictures, or other graphics is also another common violation that has been granted relief in lawsuits.

Compounding the problem is that there are currently no legal standards that companies can refer to in order to ensure their website is ADA-compliant.  The Department of Justice was expected to issue guidance and regulations in 2015 regarding website compliance with the ADA, but it reversed course in November and said that no such clarification would be forthcoming anytime soon.  The DOJ has, however, historically relied on the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) when determining whether a website is ADA-compliant.  In the meantime, Plaintiffs attorneys have seized upon this uncertainty to file lawsuits in which a plaintiff has to do nothing more than type in a URL address from their home computer to have standing to sue if the website does not comply with existing guidelines.  Companies are wise to consult with an ADA attorney as well as their website designers or hosts to address WCAG compliance and reduce the possibility that they will be the next defendant named in an ADA website lawsuit.