The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) remains one of the most impactful pieces of legislation passed in the last 40 years. When it was initially conceived, it ensured that those who are differently-abled would be entitled to the same experiences that others are. That means if your business was open to the public, you’d have to ensure everyone could safely make it inside. This has led to wheelchair-accessible sidewalks and ramps being added to every school and business while handicapped spots are added to every public parking lot. For websites, there are similar regulations about accessibility. Unfortunately, though, it’s a bit of a gray area.

There isn’t a clearly defined set of rules when it comes to websites and ADA compliance. Instead, we just follow the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) as best we can. Now, in most industries regulations would be enforced with inspections and corrections, but the ADA is enforced with lawsuits.

The United States is certainly known for its fair share of frivolous lawsuits. They’ve ranged from the slightly ridiculous to the downright insane. That’s not to say that ADA lawsuits are without merit. They’re vital to those who need them. To some money-grubbing law firms, though, it’s just a new source of revenue.

Our Case Study

I wish this next story didn’t come from experience, but it does. One of our notable clients, who was featured on Shark Tank, had to deal with this very same issue. Being on that show gives companies a lot of exposure, which makes them targets for lawsuits just like this one. So it should come as no surprise that said client was on the receiving end of one of these lawsuits in the last couple of years. That’s great news to start a morning, right?

The lawsuit stated that a client suffering from eyesight issues was unable to purchase a product from their website. As it turned out, the goal wasn’t to get us to fix the website. The goal was to get us to settle. Frivolous ADA lawsuits are a huge problem right now, especially in California, so we didn’t take this lightly.

Some law firms are known for finding problems where there are none. You might have heard the term “ambulance chaser” as a way to refer to lawyers looking for profit instead of looking out for their clients. Turns out, that’s what our client was facing. Our client discovered that there was no claimant in the first place. It was just an empty lawsuit from a firm looking to settle out of court.

So our client was able to prove that no such person existed and the lawsuit was, unsurprisingly, dropped shortly afterward.

The Legality and Ethics of ADA Lawsuits

Once again, none of this article is meant to attack the ADA or those who need it. It has undoubtedly made the world a more accessible and better place, and I’m all for it. What I don’t condone is what happened to our client - and what’s happening to hundreds of other companies. Laws and regulations are sacred. Things like the ADA, OSHA, and the FDA are created to ensure that guidelines are strictly followed. This guarantees safety and equality to every worker, consumer, and citizen.

What I don’t appreciate is the people who ruin that with bad faith or frivolous lawsuits. First of all, it’s a blatant misuse of the system. Settling with clients who don’t exist is not the goal of the ADA. Secondly, it almost guarantees these regulations might be relaxed in the future. Justice advocates are taking notice of these “predatory lawsuits”, with their figures stating that over 90% of them come from just 5 different law firms.

Their disregard for the ADA’s actual intent is going to lead down a bad road. Regulations might get relaxed, lawsuits might get ignored, and the people who need the ADA won’t be able to get its help as easily. Over time, this could lead to an erosion of the ADA’s system, and those law firms aren’t going to care. They’re just going to find the next revenue stream to suck dry. That doesn’t mean business owners have to sit and take it though.

Protecting YOUR Business From Fraudulent ADA Lawsuits

A good lawyer is going to help with the lawsuit, but that shouldn’t be your first step. Take several measures to protect yourself, including making your website genuinely ADA-compliant. It might not be cheap, but it will literally make your website more accessible to every customer. That’s a great benefit, why would you want to limit your potential market anyway? Prepare yourself, it is a little harder than just increasing font sizes.

It’s important to navigate ADA compliance with expert knowledge. There are several ADA auditing tools that you can use on your website. Not only can they tell you what’s wrong, they can tell you how to fix it. For those who want even more layers of protection, find lawyers or legal experts who specialize in the ADA. Keep detailed records of every step of the process, from the audit to consultations, so that you can demonstrate that you’ve made a good-faith effort to be ADA-compliant. You wouldn’t think it’s come to this, but there are at least 5 law firms to thank for that.

The Importance of Actual ADA Compliance

Businesses need to be inclusive. That’s not just good advice, it’s the law. Discrimination doesn’t always appear as a simple binary problem. Sometimes, we can’t always see the people struggling, but regulations like those imposed by the ADA change that. Those people deserve to be seen, to be treated fairly, and to experience the world as everyone else does. That’s the goal of the ADA, and it’s even the goal for a number of those lawsuits. Compliance isn’t just a box to check, it’s a detail of which business owners can be proud.

Accessibility shouldn’t be something kept quiet, it should be announced. The ADA isn’t meant to anger business owners so they can hold prejudice against the people it addresses. It’s meant to ensure that the same experience you enjoy gets passed along to others. That’s more admirable than 99% of the other laws we hear about, so be proud of compliance. It might help you avoid a lawsuit, but it also helps someone use your website more easily. Someone who maybe couldn’t before.

Additional Resources

ADA compliance shouldn’t be taken lightly. If you have been served, search for lawyers and defense attorneys who specialize in the ADA. It’s a niche legal issue, so finding someone with specialized knowledge is key.

To help avoid that search, here are some links to solid resources from within this article and from other sources:

Statistics on these Predatory Lawsuits

Guidelines from WCAG for Website ADA Compliance

A list of the Laws and Regulations from the ADA Themselves