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Monday, March 1, 2021

Website lawsuits expected to increase during and after COVID-19

PAUL K. HARRAL

pharral@bizpress.net

Business, corporations and school may face a wave of lawsuits as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The American Bar Association Journal online reported early in May that nearly 800 lawsuits already had been filed, ranging from prison conditions to insurance claims to civil rights.

But there is another category – lawsuits over websites that do not comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Quarantine has created a jump in the use of computers for everything from work to ordering toilet paper.

“Covid-19 has caused shoppers to move toward online shopping as opposed to purchasing in store. Companies that don’t have ADA complaint websites are already at risk of a lawsuit, but now they are seeing surges of shoppers purchasing from them online,” said Cortni LoGalbo, owner of Fort Worth-based Artistic-Zeal Media.

He says the total number of ADA Title III lawsuits filed in federal courts has increased every year for the past several years, with more than 11,000 cases filed in 2019.

That doesn’t include lawsuits filed in state courts under and local laws and demand letters sent by the plaintiffs’ bar that often are resolved short of litigation.

Artistic-Zeal Media has launched new technology to help businesses, corporations and schools avoid website compliance legal trouble.

The company says that with internet use at an all-time high, it’s likely unsuspecting companies will get blindsided by lawsuits because of an almost hidden “website compliance code” — which has caused a 152% increase in lawsuits over the last five years and is expected to rise because of a 27% spike in internet use since the COVID-19 outbreak.

LoGalbo said there are hundreds of ways that a website could be non-compliant, based on the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) as outlined by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), who sets the accessibility standards.

However, most ADA website compliance cases reference a business’s inability to be navigated using screen reading software, he said.

“The ADA Compliance Technology is basically a ‘set it and forget it’ solution to ADA website compliance,” said LoGalbo.

“After getting you set up, our technology updates every 24-hours to keep your website compliant. This way, the website owner can have peace of mind knowing their site is protected,” he said.

A few specific issues of concern are the ability to navigate a website using only the keyboard, proper coding of headings, unique titles and lists, legibility of text based on size, contrast from background, color and font and images with detailed alternative  text so screen readers can properly convey what is displayed, LoGalbo said.

LoGalbo says his company’s technology user interface automatically displays on the website that will allow an impaired individual to adjust the way the page is viewed for their specific needs.

“Meanwhile, the website will not be changed for any other viewer. Our technology doesn’t change anything on your site, but rather our AI technology adjusts it to the needs of the individual viewer using our interface,” LoGalbo said.

Visitors can adjust the view of the text to be larger or smaller, the colors if they are color blind or freeze flickering images for individuals with epilepsy, he said.

“On the back end, within 48 hours our AI technology compares the site to others in order to make it accessible for screen reading technology such as JAWS (the most referenced screen reader in lawsuits) and when someone goes to the site using this technology it will be able to read out loud what is shown on the website,” he said.

JAWS stands for Job Access With Speech , a program that allows blind and visually impaired users to use the computer.

LoGalbo said the owner’s pages do not have to change. They can still be designed as desired to best reach the target audience using preferred colors and fonts and still be accessible to those who need special assistance.

Websites also are required to have an accessibility statement and certification of performance, which Artistic-Zeal Media offers once its technology is fully in effect.

LoGalbo said there are many requirements to be compliant and that most web developers aren’t even aware of and that puts website owners unknowingly at risk.

A landmark case, Robles v. Domino’s, have made it clear that lack of knowledge isn’t considered an excuse for lack of compliance, he said.

In that case Guillermo Robles, who is blind,  sued Domino’s after he wasn’t able to order food through the company’s website and mobile app even with the assistance of screen-reading software in 2016. His lawyers argued that violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

The case ultimately reached the U.S. Supreme Court, which rejected an appeal of a 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decision in Robles favor in 2019, according to the website zielo24.com.

LoGalbo said defense attorneys in the field say it is extremely difficult to fight these kinds of cases.

“Many small businesses are told, ‘You can’t fight this. If you fight this, you’re going to quadruple your bill. There’s nothing you can do, just write them a check,’ ” he said.

“That’s why many individuals are settling out of court, but often the individuals that are sending these demand letters are doing so for hundreds of businesses at a time. And even then, getting a web developer who is familiar with regulations to make your site compatible could cost $30k+,” LoGalbo said. “That’s why we are happy to offer an affordable option for these businesses and for most companies, there are tax credits that can help cover these costs.”

For the next six months, Artistic-Zeal Media LLC is offering free Website Compliance Evaluations to small businesses, schools, major corporations and every kind of organization with a website, to protect businesses from threatening compliance lawsuits, the company said.

Business owners can request the evaluation at this address:

www.artistic-zeal.com/ada-compliance

There is a disability symbol on the lower left-hand corner of the web pages the displays the interface options when selected.

Paul Harral
Paul is a lifelong journalist with experience in wire service, newspaper, magazine, local and network television and digital media. He was vice president and editor of the editorial page of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and editor of Fort Worth, Texas magazine before joining the Business Press. What he likes best is writing about people in detail and introducing them to others in the community. Specific areas of passion are homelessness, human trafficking, health care and aerospace.

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