Is your website ADA Compliant?

Just when you thought it was safe to get in the water:  Since its passage in 1990, the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) has been used to force corporate America into making major changes to accommodate the needs of the disabled.  With wheelchair ramps, elevators and extra-wide bathroom stalls commonplace now, plaintiffs’ lawyers are making a killing expanding the ADA to … websites!

Just how bad is it, really?   Bad.  Federal courts issuing decisions that have resulted in the CIA offering a “personal assistant” to help a disabled employee eat, dress and perform bathroom hygiene have now turned a baleful, Sauron-like eye to websites. 

That doesn’t sound so bad (part 1): Except it is.  If the Department of Justice sues, penalties for a first offense can go as high as $75,000.  After that?  Don’t ask.  Those penalties are in addition to other nasty things that can happen, like injunctions that can stop a business until the problem is corrected and monetary awards to the complainant. 

That doesn’t sound so bad (part 2):  Oh, really?  How about this: the ADA gives individuals a private cause of action.  That means pretty much anyone who employs more than 15 people is at risk of a surprise attack from plaintiffs’ lawyers.  For the salt-in-the-wound file: the court gets to award the prevailing party (read that: “plaintiff’s lawyer”) the costs of litigation and attorney’s fees.  In other words, the defendant website owners gets to pay to fix the website, pay to hire a lawyer, pay for its litigation costs, and then…pay to be sued, pay for the plaintiff’s litigati0on costs and pay for the plaintiff’s (usually expensive) lawyer.

Famous last words:  “We’re ok.”  ADA strike lawsuits have increased 325% since 2015.  Ever seen a shark hang out where there’s no food?  If a defendant employs greater than 15 people. Defensive options begin to evaporate.  Unless the plaintiff’s lawyer is really, really bad (ever seen a skinny shark?) the only defense is that a website is compliant.  Determining compliance itself is complicated and difficult – there are even world accessibility standards (now on version 2.1) to use in judging website compliance. 

Damnit, Jim, I’m a doctor… not a magician:  (We’ve been waiting to use that one.)  Unless you have insomnia or a lot of free time, you probably don’t want to read how to comply with the World Wide Web Consortium’s (W3C) Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.1 AA) and Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (yes, that section 508).  Problem is, DOJ has already adopted those guidelines and Section 508 as a benchmark for settling ADA website compliance complaints. 

Is there a doctor in the house?  The best approach for healthcare providers – from small practice groups to large hospital systems is a complete ADA audit.  Ensuring complete ADA compliance that is integrated with HIPAA confidentiality guarantees, is the best approach to avoiding federal enforcement or private actions.

Not sure where to begin or needing an audit performed on your practice’s website? Contact our team at Centipede Consulting, Inc. at (866) 320-6787

About The Author: Jack Stick is an attorney who heads legal and regulatory compliance for Centipede Consulting, Inc. Stick is a former state and federal prosecutor with extensive experience in all areas of health and human services policy, administration and operations. Stick recognizes the unique challenges being faced by health care professionals statewide. 

Disclaimer: None of the information you obtain in this blog constitutes or is intended to be legal advice. Please be advised that if you need legal counsel, consult an attorney regarding your individual situation. We invite you to contact Centipede and welcome your calls, letters and electronic mail. Contacting Centipede Digital™ or Centipede Consulting, Inc., does not create a legally binding relationship. Please do not send any confidential information to us until such time as a formal relationship has been established.