Florida is third in the country for ADA Title III lawsuits, following only New York and California as part of the 3550 cases in 2020. The state is part of the US Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, which ruled in 2018 that websites with a nexus to physical places of public accommodations are subject to the same anti-discrimination laws. Florida state human rights laws also allow plaintiffs to recover up to $10,000 in damages by adding state-level claims when they file an ADA Title III lawsuit. Plus, defendants don’t have to be located in Florida to be sued there. If someone from Florida is accessing your website, you are subject to Florida jurisdiction.
Florida is a leader in ADA Title III lawsuits for many reasons, but there’s one sure way to avoid them all: make your website and all digital content accessible.
Who faces ADA Title III lawsuits?
Florida produced one of the landmark cases of digital accessibility, Gil v Winn-Dixie, which took place nearly four years ago. It was among the first to rule that websites may be considered services offered by physical places of public accommodation, and are therefore covered by public accommodations laws. Since then, hundreds of other companies and organizations have faced similar lawsuits such as Dunkin Donuts, Circle K convenience stores, and Ashley Furniture stores. But it’s not just large consumer brands facing lawsuits. A number of small businesses have also faced accessibility lawsuits, and Florida towns and counties are increasingly targeted as well.
This diverse group of plaintiffs all have one thing in common- they failed to prioritize accessibility. Without actively working to make your website and digital resources accessible, you risk leaving out a sizable part of your audience (as much as 26%) and are vulnerable to lawsuits.
How can you avoid ADA Title III AND Florida accessibility lawsuits?
To avoid lawsuits, you must comply with ADA Title III. To comply, your website must be accessible. There is no “checklist” to achieving perfect accessibility because every website is different, and what makes sense in the context of one website might not apply to another.
Simply adding accessible coding to identify elements like headings, tables, or lists can fix some cut-and-dry coding issues. Automated accessibility detectors can identify missing coding and instantly to give you a place to start. However, coding issues account for just 20-30% of accessibility problems.
The real challenge lies in contextual problems, such as reading order, accurately described alt text for images, correctly identified table cells, and identifying where buttons lead. Accessibility goes beyond asking whether coding exists to consider whether the coding is correct. If every intricate infographic on your website includes alt text that says, “image,” it will pass an automated checker. But no one using assistive technology will get any actual information from those infographics, and that makes your website inaccessible.
Achieve accessibility by addressing both coding and contextual accessibility issues. Catch inaccessible coding issues by using automated checkers. Then physically inspect your website to make sure it aligns with WCAG principles for contextual accessibility.
Don’t stop at web pages
Remember to include every element on your website, not just the web pages. Archived PDFs are easy to forget about and are often inaccessible. If any part of your website- even one PDF- is inaccessible, you are at risk for a lawsuit. Having a mountain of archived PDFs to remediate can be overwhelming, but it can be one of the fastest, easiest parts of accessibility if you have the right tools. Equidox offers PDF remediation software that uses smart detection tools, so you’ll only spend a few seconds on each page of most documents. Equidox will teach your IT or content creation team to remediate their own PDFs with free software training.
WCAG offers guidelines, not checklists, to achieve ADA Title III digital compliance
While there aren’t any checklists, there are guidelines. The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) outlines 4 principles your website and digital resources should follow to be considered accessible. It’s considered the international digital accessibility standard. While the US Department of Justice has not officially specified that websites must follow WCAG, digital accessibility lawsuit settlements often include mandating compliance with WCAG. It focuses on accessibility, not passing checkers. Remember, the law does not require that your content pass a checker; it requires that it be accessible to everyone.
WCAG addresses all aspects of compliance
Use the holistic approach of WCAG guidelines to make sure everything on your website (web pages, videos, audio files, PDFs, and more) is accessible. The four pillars of WCAG require content to be perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust.
Include alternative formats to all content. If it’s audio or video content, make sure it has subtitles and captions. For visual content, verify that it’s coded for compatibility with assistive technologies, which read content aloud or provide it in a tactile braille display.
Give your visitors navigation options. Make sure they can interact with elements using a mouse, keyboard, or other navigation devices.
Keep the jargon to a minimum. Get your point across clearly and concisely so people of all understanding levels and attention spans can grasp information.
Website visitors must be able to access the website on whatever device they prefer and with any technology. The website should remain usable even with new or updated technology.
Accessibility enhances brand affinity
Making your website and digital resources accessible using WCAG standards to comply with ADA Title III will help prevent lawsuits, but accessibility yields additional benefits too. Accessibility can broaden your audience and boost your reputation among audience members both with and without disabilities. When you make your website accessible to every visitor, it shows that you’ve considered their needs and value their business. Sharing an accessibility statement and encouraging visitors to contact you if they have accessibility concerns shows your commitment to inclusion.
Accessibility is key to compliance and inclusion
Your chance of facing an ADA Title III lawsuit in Florida has nothing to do with your industry or the size of your company and everything to do with the actual accessibility of your website. Let the Equidox accessibility experts help you prioritize the digital accessibility process and make your PDFs accessible.
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Nina comes to Onix with years of sales and marketing experience from a variety of industries, and holds a BS in Language Arts Education. Nina has a passion for words, storytelling, and information, which she believes everyone should have access to regardless of ability. After spending time as a teacher with a blind student, she became much more aware of the limitations and abilities of web accessibility, and how essential it is to those experiencing disabilities. “Being able to access information equally ensures that everyone has an equal opportunity for education, employment, and success in life.”