The COVID-19 pandemic has driven even more commerce to online platforms and away from brick-and-mortar stores. This shift is likely to amplify litigation regarding website compliance under the Americans with Disabilities Act (the “ADA”).
The ADA was originally put in motion to provide equal access to physical locations and services. It generally requires establishments to provide people with disabilities easy access to a business. In recent years, the ADA has been interpreted to include websites. The ultimate goal of the ADA is to eliminate exclusivity and offer an equal experience to all people. Thus, the logic goes, businesses should be inviting to everybody via physical location and website.
Plaintiff attorneys have developed a cottage industry over the last several years by filing thousands of lawsuits alleging that company websites are not accessible to the blind or visually impaired. In 2016 there were 262 website accessibility cases; by 2019 that number had risen to 2235. Often the same disabled individual (with the same attorney) will file these claims. They seek an injunction to make the company’s website ADA accessible and attorneys’ fees. Florida is a breeding ground for this drive-by litigation, and while the original targets were often large corporations, plaintiffs have moved on to small, locally-owned businesses.