Among the trends in several industries, particularly the food & beverage industry, is a move toward using personal technology to live digitally. Technology such as QR menus, enhanced websites, mobile ordering, delivery apps, and in-store kiosks is a partial cure to staffing challenges and is in line with shifting consumer preferences. Considering those protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is important for businesses considering new technology implementations as well as for those businesses who are evaluating improving recent investments.
Organizations and businesses with 25 or more employees are subject to ADA requirements when it comes to operating a public website. What does this mean? People with disabilities must have equal access to the same content, features, and services available to non-disabled individuals, including menus. Compliance demonstrates an entity’s commitment to providing inclusive access for all people, including those with physical, sensory, cognitive, and mental disorders that might otherwise prevent them from participating in the online experience.
The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) are standards that outline best practices for making web content more accessible to people with disabilities. Including this standard as part of your design ensures that your website can be used by all users. It also gives you a benchmark to audit or test against the measure and, if needed, debate your compliance.
WCAG standards are published by the Web Accessibility Institute (WAI) and offer designers, developers, and anyone interested in building more accessible digital products an easy-to-use framework to build accessible products measured against a set of accepted standards and best practices. By adhering to specific levels of WCAG compliance, designers can meet Section 508 standards for their websites.
A business that is accessible to all is, of course, open to a bigger market so one could argue it is good business; you can reach all customers with the end goal of increasing sales. On the other hand, a business that is not accessible to all carries a certain level of legal risk. As published by Modern Restaurant Management:
“Some plaintiffs’ lawyers have found a lucrative niche with this litigation, engaging the services of “testers” who are private citizens that go from business to business looking for ADA violations. Restaurants are frequent targets of these efforts. The law does not require that businesses be notified of any alleged violations in advance of being served with a lawsuit. Hence, most businesses are caught off guard and end up spending thousands of dollars in attorneys’ fees to resolve these cases, when the cost of actual compliance is very low. Often, there are no damages for the actual plaintiff in the case. Rather, the plaintiff’s lawyers capitalize on the fact that no advance notice is required because the statute provides for their attorneys’ fees and costs.”
Referred to as ADA website surfing, these testers will soon be plaintiffs if they find violations and share them with an attorney. A quick google search on “ADA restaurant suits” shows a list of restaurants sued in this scheme. They range from the now-closed Panda Dumpling in San Carlos, CA, and Zlfred’s in Fresno, CA, both 20-plus year small businesses, to the large brand Taco Bell.
The legal risks associated with operating a website or app that is not ADA-compliant can include significant financial losses due to damages, attorneys’ fees, and court costs. Proactively scanning your website and mobile apps for compliance and making necessary corrections confirms that your designers and developers have hit the mark in producing an ADA- and WCAG-compliant site. Scans and audits can prove your firm is attending to all individuals, considering various disabilities.
As a provider of ADA- and WCAG-related services, GBQ’s Information Technology team is pleased to provide you with these critical actions items:
- Include ADA compliance and WCAG requirements in your technology selection and development plans to incorporate ADA-compliant design elements and technologies
- Test for execution by your technologists before or shortly after a technology launch and ensure the time and budget to correct those findings.
- If your site changes often, consider a monitoring solution to help your firm stay on top of maintaining compliance.
- Of course, in all legal matters, talk with your attorneys about these risks and more.
Article written by:
Director of Information Technology Services