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Risk in Context

How Retailers Can Bring ADA Compliance into the Digital World

Posted by Mac Nadel July 27, 2016

Since the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990, retailers and others have worked to make their stores, warehouses, and other locations are accessible to disabled customers and employees. But what about website accessibility?

The Ruling

A recent court ruling in Edward Davis v. BMI/BND Travelware suggests online accessibility is the next area of focus for ADA compliance. The case was brought by a blind customer who argued that a lack of screen-reading software and other accommodations on a particular retailer’s website meant it violated the ADA. The court ruled for the plaintiff, awarding him $4,000 plus legal fees, and required the retailer to make its website accessible to visually impaired and blind customers.

Although retailers have faced ADA litigation for years, previous lawsuits focused on physical accommodations installed in brick-and-mortar locations. Retailers have taken steps such as installing ramps, building wider doorways, and making restrooms accessible.

The new ruling makes clear that retailers’ websites should now be considered digital extensions of their physical locations — and thus subject to the ADA. Retailers’ need to be aware that their websites face scrutiny for their accessibility to users with visual, auditory, physical, speech, cognitive, language, learning, and neurological disabilities.

Making Web Content Accessible

A first step in making your website accessible is to measure its current compliance against appropriate guidelines. The Department of Justice has said that it will issue binding regulations on website accessibility by 2018. Until then, organizations can refer to the international Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).

According to the guidelines, accessible web content is:

  • Perceivable: Design your website with visually impaired and deaf users in mind. For example, offer written text as an alternative to audio content, and add captions or subtitles to videos.
  • Operable: Consider the needs of someone using a keyboard instead of a mouse. And give users enough time to read or use all content.
  • Understandable: Make sure your text content is readable and easy to understand. And ensure that design and navigation are predictable and easily understood.
  • Robust: Ensure your website is compatible with disabled users’ assistive technologies. Be ready to accommodate future upgrades.

Reviewing Insurance Coverage

As with ADA lawsuits involving brick-and-mortar accessibility, several forms of insurance could respond in the event a lawsuit alleging website violations of the ADA. Businesses should review all insurance policies that may apply, including:

  • Commercial general liability.
  • Employment practices liability.
  • Errors and omissions.

If you work with vendors to build or maintain your website, they should similarly review these and other applicable insurance policies.

For more information, read Retailers’ Websites Face Scrutiny Under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Mac Nadel

Mac Nadel is the Retail/Wholesale, Food & Beverage Industry Practice Leader (IPL) for the United States. Mac has been in various leadership roles within the Retail/Wholesale, Food & Beverage Industry Practice of Marsh for the past twelve years, and has been the National IPL since October 2009.