Insight

ADA Website Compliance: A Better Experience for Law Firms and Clients

Information technology leader and civil rights lawyers weigh in on the vital need for website accessibility in the digital age, especially for law firms and companies like Best Lawyers.

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Gregory Sirico

August 17, 2022 04:00 PM

Most people have some understanding of what the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is and why it’s so incredibly crucial for the advancement as well as equity of disabled individuals across the country. Passed in 1990, the federal law restricts discrimination of any kind on the basis of one’s disability, be it cognitive or physical, also requiring employers to make all necessary accommodations for employees’ disabilities. As one decade morphed into the next, the breadth of the internet and access to personal computers only grew more widely accessible for general consumers and companies alike, leaving lawmakers questioning the overall scope of the ADA and how it can be revised to aid disabled individuals in a tech-driven world.

Title III of the ADA was passed over a decade ago, but recently new amendments have been added, setting in place an improved standard of website accessibility for businesses and law firms alike. The ADA states that “places of public accommodation” are required by federal law to remove all “access barriers” that would otherwise restrict a disabled person from accessing a particular good or service. District courts across the nation are beginning to see a significant increase in web accessibility and ADA website compliance suits. Whether a company is still in its ground stages or is already in the process of attaining full ADA website compliance, there are a few advantages that can make a business and its website’s accessibility stronger.

If Not Us, Who?

The importance of Civil Rights lawyers cannot be understated, and access to them is paramount for citizens to secure their rights through evolving and complex civil rights laws. The 29th edition of The Best Lawyers in America recognizes the top 7% of lawyers in private practice in the United States, of which only 238 were recognized for their work in Civil Rights Law. When someone who’s civil liberties have been violated is looking for the top talent in this specific field, it is paramount that their information is accessible, especially if the individual identifies in a protected class which would be disproportionately affected by the lack of accessibility options on a website.

Best Lawyers® recently launched our new website with ADA compliance at the helm of our design. While still striving for full ADA compliance, we understand the importance of improving every aspect of our website for all users. With a focus on insuring image descriptions, alt tags for video and audio files, clean and consistent layouts and taking every such measure we can to offer all consumers a useful website experience, Best Lawyers is working towards furthering accessibility to all internet users.

Best Lawyers’ Director of IT Larry Meadows explained more of our company’s concentrated efforts:

Our company has implemented many such features that put us on a path to full ADA compliance. With the launch of our newest website iteration and our inclusion efforts, we extend the reach and accessibility of our website to include the millions of users seeking legal counsel and news. As leaders in the legal rankings industry, we are proud to offer additional accessibility features.”

As Best Lawyers launches the 2023 editions of The Best Lawyers in America® and Best Lawyers: Ones to Watch in America™, we are proud that the latest recognitions and top legal talent will be more accessible to millions of individuals.

Businesses and law firms without accommodation solutions on websites may be missing out on engaging millions of potential customers and clients every day. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, as of 2019, about 41 million people, or 13% of the U.S. population, are living with a disability. Without accessibility features such as text readers, enhanced audio capabilities and mouseless navigation, disabled individuals would be unable to explore a great deal of what a website has to offer, only further shrinking a business’s target audience.

Michael W. Bien, a co-founding partner at Rosen Bien Galvan & Grunfeld in San Francisco, has been practicing civil rights law and civil rights liberties for more than four decades. He has been listed in The Best Lawyers in America since 2013 in Commercial Litigation. We reached out to Bien for his weigh-in on website ADA compliance and why it’s so important for the legal industry. He emphasized a few things that the legal industry should take notice of, including “digital accessibility receiving greater attention from disability rights advocates, plaintiffs and the courts.” He went on to explain that “law firms should ensure that their websites are fully accessible to people with disabilities. It is the right thing to do, it is good for business and given that law firms are also subject to Title III of the ADA, it will ensure that law firms’ websites do not run afoul of the ADA.”

To add to this, a key component of the new Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), which were established by the non-governmental organization the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) as industry standards, is on user accessibility to screen readers, a website tool that operates similarly to a search engine. For companies heavily reliant on SEO, the application of meta tagging, alternative image text and video transcripts should be considered.

Kristin Alden, partner at Aldan Law Group in Washington, D.C., has been practicing civil rights law and representing employees in the workplace for a number of years. Although already listed in The Best Lawyers in America in Employment Law – Individuals since 2012, she was more recently recognized in Civil Rights Law for 2022 and 2023. Her firm specializes in advising clients on an extensive range of compliance issues, including ADA compliance and accessibility. Alden told us that one major setback for many companies is their inability to market to their entire consumer base. She stated, “business websites often fail to appreciate the market value of visually impaired potential customers and the potential liability the business may face when it doesn’t make its website accessible to those individuals.” She went on to say, “research teaches that simple and inexpensive solutions can save a company potentially millions—particularly because lawsuits over website accessibility tend to be class-actions and because the defendant may have to pay the class’s attorney fees as well.”

Currently, a safe harbor clause is in place that allows a business’s existing content to remain on their website, unless altered after January 18, 2018. However, WCAG does factor in any webpage that has been updated after that date, meaning websites that have yet to begin the work to reach ADA compliance could face severe financial penalties and legal repercussions.

Businesses and law firms will do well to incorporate ADA compliance standards sooner rather than later, though. “It’s important for law firms to embrace the ADA’s standards–including those for website accessibility. Our ethical rules hold us to a higher ethical standard. The public often holds law firms to a higher legal standard, and as officers of the court, we should be model employers and model website hosts,” Aldan concluded, emphasizing the responsibility law firms hold to be pillars of positive change for all users.

If Not Now, When?

There is perhaps no greater time than now to make plans for your company and law firm websites to work towards ADA compliance. Resources abound to offer guidance, including many lawyers listed in the 2023 editions of The Best Lawyers in America and Best Lawyers: Ones to Watch in America. Compliance is not just a consideration—it’s a demand. To find more lawyers listed in the 2023 edition of Best Lawyers who can offer guidance on ADA compliance, user our Find a Lawyer tool.

Headline Image: iStock/ WhataWin

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