Owners of non-ADA compliant websites could face lawsuits

This week, a Bay Area business owner reached out to FOX 13 saying a law firm is targeting them for violating the Americans with Disabilities Act on their website, and it’s a growing trend across the country.

“Winn Dixie was sued for website violations, and it’s the only case that I know of that’s gone to trial. They lost,” said attorney Dan Anderson of Anderson Law Group in Clearwater.

Anderson said he sees more small business owners being sued by law firms for not having websites that are friendly for the hearing or visually impaired.

“They just don’t have the kind of money that is necessary to respond to the lawsuit and defend it, so really they’re forced to settle. And in the process of settling, they’re forced to pay many thousands of dollars,” said Anderson.

It could potentially be putting them out of business. The issue is that websites are not a part of ADA law, but there are laws against communication barriers.

“I just want to try to help these businesses and make them aware that this is an issue,” said web developer Geoff Fahey, owner of Pro Digital Strategies.

Fahey checks coding to bring businesses’ websites into compliance, and he suggests business owners check out the free Website Accessibility Evaluation or WAVE tool to see what needs to be changed on their website to bring the errors to zero.

Then, he said there are several steps to complete.

“You have to go into the back end and edit all this [coding] information, and you have to follow these extensive audits that are usually conducted by organizations or nonprofits that have visually impaired individual,” said Fahey.

He added that he works with Tampa Lighthouse for the Blind, Lighthouse Central Florida and the National Federation of the Blind to audit websites.

Attorneys said small business owners need a firm set of rules to follow to help disabled people who may visit their website. And Fahey said a grace period would be better than getting slapped with a lawsuit.

“What I think should happen is a law firm or another organization comes to these businesses and says Hey, please fix this. We have customers that cannot access your website. Please take 60 days, three months, fix it.’ Here are the issues. Here are the list of approved vendors and web developers that know how to do it rather than going the route of suing them and immediately demanding money,” Fahey added.

There are web accessibility standards the courts do recognize now and businesses follow those for their websites.

Code for custom-built websites will be easier to edit, but Fahrey said business owners that use certain web platforms may not have access to the back end of their website to make necessary changes.