Nonprofit Websites Must Comply with ADA, Says New Court Decision

Corporate Partners | April 17, 2019

An Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) policy and compliance with Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 can help.

A recent lawsuit has heightened the need for nonprofits to ensure their websites are accessible to people who have disabilities. Website accessibility is also an important way for organizations serving older adults and people with disabilities to be inclusive of all residents, patients, families, supporters, and more. 

Organization websites that are inaccessible to consumers with visual, auditory, or other disabilities may violate the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), according to a recent federal appeals court decision in Robles v. Domino’s Pizza. This decision includes nonprofits’ websites, according to "Ninth Circuit Ruling Bolsters ADA Website Accessibility Suits: Risks for Nonprofits," by DC-based law firm Venable. 

While the ADA does not specifically mention "websites" or the "Internet" in its definition of public accommodation, the courts are split on whether a public accommodation must be a physical location, said a previous Venable article. Some courts, as in a case involving 1-800-Flowers.com, have found a website to be a public accommodation, even if it is not associated with a physical location. 

The ADA also does not require websites to comply with the widely used Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 (WCAG 2.0). However, in light of this litigation, doing so would be prudent. Venable suggested the following steps to reduce the risk of ADA lawsuits:

  • Evaluate your website: Develop and implement an ADA policy to determine how accessible your website, products, and services are to people with disabilities. If needed, make your offerings more accessible. Consider retaining legal counsel with accessibility experience, as choosing the right accessibility audit tools and services can be daunting.
  • Conduct audits: Include ADA compliance in your audit schedule. Review ADA issues internally or ask an accessibility audit vendor for help. Consider regular WCAG compliance audits to ensure your websites remain accessible as you add new website content and as technology and standards evolve (WCAG or otherwise).
  • Update vendor contracts: Include WCAG 2.0 compliance in vendor contracts, as part of due diligence reviews and vendor management processes.
  • Provide training: Make sure customer representatives, advertising and marketing teams, and IT personnel receive ADA training and are able to address disability-related questions and requests.
  • Update your risk management process: Incorporate ADA-related claims and demands into your risk management process. Work with experienced counsel to defend any claims. Evaluate the claims to see if you can update websites or mobile applications to avoid future claims. 
  • Get feedback: Provide a mechanism for people to report accessibility issues and concerns, and incorporate it into your overall complaint management process. Seek input from people with disabilities who have experience giving this type of input. Address accessibility issues on the front end, and evaluate potential risks that people may report.