Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Accessibility Requirements for Websites and Apps

October 14, 2019 Advisory

By denying review of an ADA website and mobile app accessibility case this week, the U.S. Supreme Court let stand a lower court decision holding that Title III of the ADA applies to websites and mobile applications.

In that case, the appeals court held that the ADA imposes accessibility requirements on a business website and mobile app because they “connect customers to the goods and services of…physical restaurants,” which are places of public accommodation. As a result, the court concluded that the website and app in question must “provide the blind with effective communication and full and equal enjoyment of its products and services.”

In refusing to review this decision, the Supreme Court left in place a split among lower courts regarding the applicability of the ADA to websites and related applications. The First, Second and Seventh Circuits have held that websites offering goods or services to the public are themselves places of public accommodations that must be accessible to individuals with visual impairment. Meanwhile, the Third, Sixth, Ninth and Eleventh Circuits have reasoned that websites offering goods and services to the public may fall within the ADA as places of public accommodation if the websites have a sufficient nexus to a physical location.

This development highlights the growing risk of claims and liability for businesses that use websites and related applications for customers to access goods and services. Consumers bringing these claims under the ADA and corresponding state and local laws generally seek court orders requiring companies to provide websites and applications accessible to individuals with visual impairments. When successful, these ADA claimants are allowed to recover their attorneys’ fees.

Businesses seeking to mitigate these risks should consider an accessibility audit of their website and mobile applications. Several courts and the Department of Justice have treated the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 as the de facto standard for ADA compliance in jurisdictions where websites are deemed places of public accommodation (see http://www.w3.org/WAI/standards-guidelines/wcag/). However, given the release of WCAG 2.1 last year, there will likely be growing pressure for websites to meet the 2.1 standards—and a new wave of lawsuits to force website and app upgrades.

Armstrong Teasdale closely monitors this rapidly evolving area of the law to provide guidance on compliance with accessibility standards and all other aspects of the ADA. With national Real Estate and Employment and Labor practices, Armstrong Teasdale is well equipped to address the full scope of ADA compliance issues that arise for U.S. businesses.