Washington Restaurant Market Watch: Website accessibility is a must

Washington Restaurant Market Watch: Website accessibility is a must

By Paul Schlienz

No one wants to get on the wrong side of laws and regulations.

Restaurant operators rightly go to great lengths to stay compliant with federal, state and local rules in order to avoid government sanctions and lawsuits from customers. Increasingly, however, businesses are finding themselves in trouble for not providing accessibility to their websites for disabled users.

“A wave of demand letters is hitting the desks of businesses that operate websites,” Zoraida M. Vale, attorney with Graydon Head & Ritchey LLP, wrote in Lexology. “These letters are coming from plaintiff law firms who claim the business’ website is inaccessible under the Americans with Disability Act (ADA). Typically, the demand letter threatens litigation unless the business enters into a settlement agreement. Title III of the ADA does not allow a private party to collect monetary damages, only injunctive relief and reasonable attorney’s fees. So the proposed settlement agreement requires the business to pay the yet to be named plaintiff’s attorney’s fees and costs and use its expert to make the website ‘compliant’ with the ADA.”

Although the ADA requires places of public accommodation to be accessible to the disabled, there is nothing in the ADA that specifically addresses website access. While courts are split on this issue, in view of the lawsuits that are being initiated against businesses due to this issue, it is a good idea to act proactively and protect yourself by updating your website with accessibility in mind.

“The goal of website ADA compliance is to write your website’s code in such a manner that a person with epilepsy can use the site without risk of seizure, or a vision-impaired person using a reader can order his groceries or access his bank account,” marketing expert Will Creedle wrote on the Z:Drive blog. “It’s about fairness and bringing to the Web the same inclusiveness found in the brick-and-mortar establishments that comply with the ADA. There have been rules and best practices for writing and displaying code on a website for years now, but compliance with these rules has been only been mandated by certain businesses or industries. The result is that most websites are non-compliant and behind-the-times. The good news? Coding an ADA-compliant site is very possible with little or no impact to usability or design.”

Before you make any changes to your website, get to know WCAG 2.0 – Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. This is the industry standard for non-government websites. It’s also being used by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) as a barometer in determining if a website is ADA compliant.

At its most basic, WCAG 2.0 stresses that in order to achieve accessibility, your website should be:

  • Perceivable:Provide alternatives for text and media, create content that is presentable in different ways, and make it easier to see and hear content.
  • Operable:Make all functionality on your pages available from keyboards, make sure have enough time to access features, avoid designs known to cause seizures, and provide tools for helping users navigate your pages.
  • Understandable:Strive to make your Web content understandable and predictable and provide mechanisms so users can avoid and correct mistakes.
  • Robust:Make sure your Website maximizes compatibility with current and future assistive technologies.

The DOJ is currently slated to release website accessibility guidelines for private businesses, in 2018, after many delays.

“Plaintiff law firms are taking advantage of the law’s ambiguity on website accessibility standards,” wrote Vale. “Before your business becomes a party to the shakedown, review your website for accessibility issues.”

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