Are disabled activists working to improve society for the disabled one lawsuit at a time?
According to the WFLA.com news channel 8, last year there were 2,285 ADA lawsuits filed in federal courts across the nation, an increase of 181 percent from 2018. According to website accessibility company Usable Net. most lawsuits originate in Florida and New York.
The owner of Island Comfort Footwear in the Westfield Countryside Mall in Clearwater said “The attorneys are telling us, “You cannot fight this. There’s nothing you can do, just write them a check.”
One of the 175 business owners was sued by Emily Fuller of Broward county, who is visually impaired. In her lawsuit filed on January 4, she claims that she was not able to use the website of Tundis’ Shoe Store. Fuller uses a screen reader to use the internet. She claims the shoe stores website lacked coding to allow her to communicate with her software. This is a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, according to her lawsuit.
South Florida attorneys Pelayo Duran and Roderick Hannah represent Fuller. The attorneys say that their client is giving a needed service for society to ensure that all websites are ADA compliant and accessible to all.
Fuller has sued big names such as Sephora, The Home Depot and Chick-Fil-A, claiming their websites are not ADA compliant. She has also sued Clearwater Shoe Store, Orlando store, Sassy Pants, an active wear boutique, and Tampa Sport service Inc.
Defense attorney Anastasia Protopapadakis, an ADA defense attorney says that in most cases, private businesses can’t be sued for damages, under the ADA. Businesses are sued for attorney fees and compliance. Protopapadakis said most businesses faced with this type of lawsuit will settle the case for attorney fees and compliance, which is cheaper than litigation.
“Any case appealed to the 11th Circuit has not gone the defendant’s way,” said Protopapadakis.
Another frustration for business is that there are no federal regulations giving a checklist of what a business must do to make their websites ADA accessible, though courts have ruled that most websites must be accessible under the ADA.
There are companies that specialize in website compatibility, knowing how to have content coded for audio translation by screen reader software, on-screen captions in video for screen reader software to read to the blind and descriptions for the deaf, plus sites must include accessible drop down menus for those who use a keyboard as an alternative to a mouse.
Why must we be accessible?
Whether we must be accessible will depend on where the business is located. In the 11th Judicial Circuit, which includes Florida, websites that are connected to a physical store must be accessible to the visually and hearing impaired. For now, businesses are on their own to figure out how to proceed in ADA compliancy and in where to invest. Experts say that it is generally a good idea to go with inclusiveness to the extent that it is possible. By making your digital properties more accessible, you can protect your website from litigation and make it easier for the millions of Americans who live with a disability. Experts say that almost every other visitor to your website either has a disability or they are close to someone that has a disability, and when you can convey that you are a disability-friendly brand, you make an impact on the larger audience of consumers.