Are lawsuits an efficient way to improve web accessibility for people with disabilities?

There is a surge in website-accessibility lawsuits under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), with over 16,700 digital-accessibility lawsuits filed since 2018. As the ADA does not specify standards for web accessibility, this gap is often filled by the use of Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. As ligigations are criticised as ineffective solution for better accessibility of people with disabilities, academic and policy makers in the USA search for other solutons.

Will-chair symbolising access of people with disabilities online

The enforcement of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) largely relies on private citizens and their lawyers, resulting in a surge of website-accessibility lawsuits. According to Usable NET, over 16,700 digital-accessibility lawsuits have been filed in state and federal courts since 2018. While the ADA only allows plaintiffs to recover attorneys’ fees, some states like New York and California allow plaintiffs to include state-level claims in their federal cases to seek damages.

The increase in litigation has led to the emergence of new law firms and serial plaintiffs, with some individuals filing hundreds of lawsuits. Website-accessibility lawsuits account for approximately a fifth of all ADA-related claims. As the ADA itself does not provide specific guidelines for website design, the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, consisting of around 50 technical recommendations, are frequently cited in these lawsuits.

The impact of litigation on improving accessibility standards is a topic of debate. Some argue that the fear of lawsuits has prompted businesses to prioritise accessibility, while others believe it may have hindered progress, as companies opt to settle lawsuits instead of implementing comprehensive accessibility measures.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) occasionally intervenes directly in accessibility cases. Possible solutions to curb the number of lawsuits include requiring plaintiffs to provide notice before filing a lawsuit, giving businesses an opportunity to rectify accessibility issues, and providing clearer guidelines and requirements for website accessibility from the DOJ. These solutions would benefit the real parties involved, rather than those profiting from the confusion surrounding accessibility litigation.