Small businesses face significant obstacles in their day-to-day operations. Most of these obstacles are obvious, such as hiring qualified employees, earning a profit, and navigating the oceanic nature of federal regulations, just to name a few. However, there is one issue creeping up on small businesses that can provide an enormous headache (and possible lawsuit!) if small business owners are not prepared.
This issue is website compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (“ADA”). The ADA generally prohibits public accommodations (the ADA’s term for businesses) from discriminating against those with disabilities and requires public accommodations to provide sufficient equal access for those with disabilities to the goods and services offered by the business. Before the predominance of the internet, the ADA was generally thought to apply only to physical constructions to a business or the goods/services offered by the business.
After the internet boom of the 1990s and early 2000s, the legal question arose as to whether the ADA applies to the websites of businesses.
After the internet boom of the 1990s and early 2000s, the legal question arose as to whether the ADA applies to the websites of businesses. Most large businesses have the resources to update their website in order to be ADA compliant, but small businesses still are either unaware of the need for ADA compliance or lack excess resources to spend on updating their website. Payday-seeking lawyers and plaintiffs have started targeting small businesses with non-compliant websites. This is not the first time NFIB has addressed this growing lawsuit concern.
The problem is complicated due to the fact that there is no clear guidance on what ADA-website compliance looks like. Unsurprisingly, this has caused confusion among the different courts addressing the issue. The Department of Justice (“DOJ”) has clearly stated that the ADA applies to websites but has refused to give guidance on what websites must do to be compliant. The current legal landscape of “comply, but we won’t tell you exactly how” is confusing and unhelpful for businesses, large or small.
Consistent with its longstanding mission and purpose to be the voice and legal resource for small business owners, NFIB has created a tip sheet, which can be found here, to help navigate ADA website compliance. This brief overview provides the text of the relevant ADA provisions, more detail on DOJ’s position regarding website compliance, and resources to help small businesses determine what to do to make their website ADA-compliant.
Updated September 30, 2020