Web accessibility lawsuits have been growing in numbers since 2018. In the past two years, we have seen quite a few large business houses being dragged to court because their online presence denied accessibility to people with disabilities. But can these lawsuits mean trouble for your business, even if they are from out of your state? Let us find out.
One of the recent lawsuits filed in July 2020 was against a leading digital media company called Gimlet Media. The lawsuit came into the limelight since it attracted a lot of attention from within and outside the disability communities. The media company based in New York is owned by the streaming giant Spotify and attracts millions of downloads every month.
The legal case against Gimlet Media has raised several essential questions whether large media houses and tech companies are taking enough steps to ensure equality of digital accessibility. The lawsuit has acted as a wake-up call for businesses of all sizes to make accessibility a priority for any digital platform, be it in New York or California.
Stating the Lawsuit
The complaint filed against Gimlet Media in July stated that the online presence of the company does not care for the accessibility of users with hearing disabilities. According to the lawsuit, the company’s podcasts on the internet fail to offer closed captions and thus violates Title III of Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), New York City Civil Rights, and the New York Human Rights Act.
According to the latest WCAG 2.1 standards, any audio or video content published on the internet for a public audience must have appropriate closed captions or transcripts to make them accessible to people who are hard of hearing.
Even though the case is still pending, the past judgments of such lawsuits indicate that the verdict will not be in favor of the media company, provided the judge deems that the company’s website is a public place.
The Uniqueness of the Lawsuit
The case against Gimlet Media is different from the previous accessibility lawsuits. Most of the earlier high profile lawsuits against large businesses were filed by plaintiffs who were blind or visually impaired. However, the Gimlet Media case is the first of its kind, where legal compliance is related to the accessibility of audio content.
Businesses all over America have been reminded that there are more than 36 million people in the country who are hard of hearing. Therefore, every company needs to ensure that its approach to accessibility must cover all types of disabilities and not just the visual ones.
With the increasing popularity of podcasts, several business websites use them for promotional activities and marketing campaigns. They need to ensure that any audio content present on the website must have closed captions or transcripts that can be read by people who are hard of hearing.
The Gimlet Media case had some reflections from the public backlash faced by Twitter in June when the social media company announced the addition of Voice Tweets as a feature. However, the deaf communities quickly pointed out that they would not be able to use the feature, since there is no way to include closed captions.
As a result of the public uproar, the social media giant had to withdraw its plans for the time being. It wasn’t the first time when communities pointed out accessibility problems on Twitter. The company was the last to incorporate alt-texts for images that enable accessibility for people with visual impairments.
Is Your Business at Risk?
Even though the lawsuit was filed against Gimlet Media in New York, ADA is a federal law that is applicable in all states. Therefore you have to ensure that your business website is accessible to people with disabilities, immaterial of where your business premises are located. There have been cases where businesses located in Colorado have received legal notices of lawsuits filed in New Jersey.
In California, federal courts have always ruled in favor of the plaintiffs in cases of website accessibility. Domino’s Pizza restaurants lost a lengthy legal battle in 2019 when a blind person filed a lawsuit against them in California as he could not access the website.
If you want to find out whether you are at risk of getting an ADA demand letter or a legal notice, the easiest way is to audit your website for accessibility. Several companies offer free accessibility audits. The audit will point out how accessible your website is and which are the areas that need to be optimized.
Making a website accessible is quite easy these days since you can use automated software. Simon Sterne from Web Designer Depot covered how accessiBe uses AI to achieving quick web accessibility for both small businesses and large enterprises. It serves as a good starting point to protect your business from accessibility-related lawsuits.
You can also read about the current 2.1 version of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), which lists several criteria that a website must fulfill to become accessible. Depending on the nature of your business, your website must meet many of these guidelines.
The guidelines have been categorized into sections, A, AA, and AAA. Most business websites need to meet the criteria listed under A and AA to be deemed accessible. These guidelines are designed to ensure that following them will make a website accessible to people with every type of disability.
Remember that making a website accessible is not only about following the law. It is also about doing the right thing. People with disabilities have to face many more challenges in their everyday lives. Therefore it is everyone’s responsibility to put in some extra effort so that we can make things convenient for them. Your endeavors to make your business website accessible will not only be appreciated by the disabilities community but everyone else associated with them.