Accessibility Lawsuits Target Local Government Websites in Georgia

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed to ensure that individuals with disabilities have equal access to the rights and privileges that everyone else enjoys. If you own a business, you likely know if the ADA requires you make it accessible to people with disabilities. What you might not realize, however, is that this also applies to your website. In fact, if your company’s website isn’t ADA-compliant, you might join a few Georgia local governments in being taken to court.

ada lawsuits in georgia

Brief History of ADA

Since 2011, at least 142 local governments in the US have been sued due to website accessibility issues. These include Glynn, Randolph, Stewart and Lumpkin Counties in Georgia. Even the city of Atlanta has been hit by an ADA lawsuit. Before understanding the basis of this litigation and how it could affect your business, though, you first need to understand the history of the ADA.

The Americans with Disabilities Act was signed in 1990 to remove what President H.W. Bush called a “shameful wall of exclusion.” It provided protections in the areas of employment, public entities, public accommodations, telecommunications and other miscellaneous areas.

There have been consistent legal attacks on the law over the years, but in 2008, George W. Bush signed an update to the law which expanded the definition of “disability” and provided additional rights. Studies have shown that the ADA has had a substantial impact on increasing accessibility.

ADA Compliance for City and Local Governments

The legal system always takes time to catch up with technology, but it seems as if the ADA has finally caught up with the internet. The aforementioned 142 cities or counties facing compliance lawsuits is just the tip of the iceberg. Title II of the ADA stipulates that public entities at all levels must be accessible to individuals with disabilities.

Since the local Georgia governments are public entities, their websites not being accessible led to these lawsuits. Considering the fact that ADA lawsuits increased by 37% in 2016, there’s little doubt that the trend will continue. In fact, half of ADA-related suits filed since 2011 have been against local and state governments.

The Georgia locales are affected because they’re public entities, but if you’re a business owner, you likely constitute a public accommodation. This means you could be sued, just like Winn-Dixie, Domino’s and Home Depot, under Title III of the act.

ADA and the SEO Benefits

It’s important to keep in mind that these are not frivolous lawsuits. Nearly 1 in 5 Americans have some form of disability and may be unable to use your website. With that being said, there’s also a bright side to updating your web content. ADA compliance can actually improve your SEO.

The simple fact is that making your website more accessible to people with disabilities also makes it more accessible to search engines. Text alternatives, for instance, are required for non-text content. This means your images’ alt tags can be used as keyword opportunities. This is true in several areas:

  • Transcripts: Providing transcripts of audio content also provides for organic reach.
  • Captions: Pre-recorded media should have captions – another SEO opportunity.
  • Text Images: Instead of using images of text, use the text itself. Go crazy with the keywords.
  • Link Text: Instead of “Click here,” a link’s text should make its purpose clear. SEO goldmine.

There are a variety of other changes that can help make your website ADA compliant, but these are just a few that can take your SEO to the next level. While it might take some time to update your company’s website, the dodging of lawsuits and improved organic reach will be well worth the effort.

WGAC 2.0 is the Standard for Compliance

Fortunately, you don’t have to guess at how to make your website more accessible. The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 are already the industry standard for compliance. WGAC has a single stated goal: “Providing a single shared standard for web content accessibility that meets the needs of individuals, organizations and governments internationally.”

There are 12 guidelines provided by the WCAG, and each is intended to help individuals with disabilities gain access to web content. By following these guidelines, you can ensure that all of your potential clients have access to everything you have to offer. And since more people are opting to do business with socially responsible companies, WGAC 2.0 usage could turn into a great marketing point.

How to Get ADA Compliant

Many of the ADA lawsuits directed at Georgia cities and counties made specific reference to having a Web Accessibility Policy posted to their website. This is your first step towards becoming ADA compliant. Fortunately, this is the easy part, but those who aren’t experienced in the new world of website-ADA compliance could have trouble navigating other areas.

This makes an ADA audit a required step in identifying any issues and resolving them as quickly as possible. Not sure where to begin? We can help – adPharos has helped many organizations get and stay ADA compliant and can help you too. Contact us today to get started.

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