How to Understand the Accessibility Law


My name is Tiffany and I am committed to ​helping your enterprise develop strong digital products and even stronger digital teams.

Web accessibility related lawsuits are on the rise and most corporate websites are not compliant. Here are 4 actions that you can take to better understand the law. 

Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer. This is not legal advice.

Familiarize Yourself with the ADA

The US government requires that all websites be compliant with Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Specifically, Title III of ADA has been interpreted by the courts to apply to websites. Essentially, ADA for the web involves making your website more accessible. It says that you should make a good faith effort to deliver your site in a way that everyone, including persons with disabilities, can enjoy the “full and equal” use of your website.

While the courts require compliance, they have not provided explicit guidance on how to ensure that your site is compliant. In the absence of an explicit web accessibility law, the U.S. courts and the Department of Justice (DOJ) have continually referenced the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) as the standard to gauge whether websites are accessible.

The WCAG was developed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) to provide basic standards that all websites, apps and electronic content should adhere to. You can find the WCAG here.

Familiarize Yourself with the WGAC

After a cursory review of the WCAG, you may feel overwhelmed. Navigating it can be tricky and exhausting. Here is a quick overview of what you need to know.

There are two different versions of the WCAG. As technologies have become more complex, the WCAG has evolved over time. The version 2.0 was published in 2008 and version 2.1 was published in 2018. WCAG 2.1 builds on WGAC 2.0 with additional success criteria to account for new technologies.

There are three levels of compliance.

  • A (lowest level) – Minimum level of compliance
  • AA : (mid range): Acceptable level of compliance for most companies
  • AAA (highest level): Highest (and most complex) level of compliance

WGAC 2.1 Level AA has been used as the basis of several lawsuits and is generally used targeted by accessibility-minded organizations.

Research Accessibility Lawsuits

A record number of web accessibility lawsuits have been filed each year, some of which result in financial loss and reputational damage for companies. In 2019, for instance, more than 2,000 ADA web and app accessibility lawsuits were filed. This number is likely to increase as corporations and small businesses become targets to individuals that have a credible accessibility complaints and those looking to make a quick buck.

High-profile lawsuits include:

  1. NAD v Netflix (2012) – Netflix
  2. Gil v Winn-Dixie (2017) – Winn-Dixie
  3. Markett vs. Five Guys Enterprises (2017) – Five Guys
  4. Mendizabal v. Nike Inc. (2017) – Nike
  5. Robles v Domino’s Pizza LLC (ongoing) – Dominos

If you are interested in learning more about accessibility lawsuits, check out these resources:

  1. DOJ Title III Actions (search for ” accessibility” on the page)
  2. 4 Key Takeaways from 2018 Web Accessibility Lawsuits
  3. ADA Enforcement Activities
  4. When Good Sites Go Bad
  5. General Statistics about Lawsuits
  6. UsableNet Lawsuit Recap Report

Stay Abreast of New Accessibility Regulations

There are many regulatory developments happening in the accessibility space. At the moment, the two areas that I am watching are: (1) the Online Accessibility Act and (2) the Unruh Act.

First, the Online Accessibility Act. The Online Accessibility Act, a law that was recently proposed to Congress in October 2020. No further action has been taken beyond the introduction of the law, but this is something to keep an eye on.

Second, the Unruh Act. The Unruh Act which is a parallel California state civil rights act which allows persons bringing forth a lawsuit to capture additional damages beyond those provided in the ADA. Companies should pay attention to this for two reasons. First, if your website is visible in California (which is pretty much every website on the web, right?) then a California resident could potentially bring forth a suit which names the Unruh Act. Second, California has been setting standards that other states tend to follow. The California Privacy Right Act, for example, is a template that other states are considering adopting. The same could happen with the Unruh Act.

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