If your website isn’t in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, you might be losing prospective clients.
You’re also running a risk of being sued.
The past two years have seen a record number of ADA lawsuits alleging inaccessibility of website and mobile apps against law firms and other businesses. That trend is expected to accelerate, as the Department of Justice has announced website accessibility is an enforcement priority.
Smart lawyers are taking proactive steps to make sure their website is ADA-compliant.
“What user experience does a visually impaired person have when visiting your website? Is your website designed with barriers for people with disabilities? These are among the important questions to ask to ensure that all visitors can perceive, understand, navigate, and interact with you on the Web,” according to this article in The National Law Review.
Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”, 42 U.S.C.A. § 12182) prohibits disability discrimination in places of public accommodation – including law offices – as does North Carolina’s Persons with Disabilities Protection Act (N.C.G.S. § 168A-6). Although the ADA only defines “public accommodation” in terms of physical facilities, a number of courts, including federal courts in the First and Seventh Circuits, have held that websites are covered as well.
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Law Website Accessibility Checklist
While 26 percent of US adults have some type of disability, less than one percent of attorneys say they do.
“[A] disability can include sensory, physical, emotional, cognitive, and psychological conditions, many of which are not immediately perceivable by the public,” writes attorney Derek Dittmar on the NC Bar Blog. “It is unsurprising that most legal providers do not know how to make their services, offices, and products accessible to persons with disabilities (PWDs). When our profession is not conducted with a focus on accessibility for clients, and when we lack disabled coworkers to provide their lived and learned expertise, we are giving up, or greatly limiting, the chance to work for, and with, PWDs.”
In his blogpost, Dittmar says “ensuring accessibility is both a legal and ethical obligation for attorneys and firms, in addition to simply being good business sense.”
As a starting point for making your website and office ADA compliant, Dittmar suggests the following:
- When dedicating time and resources to diversity, equity, and inclusivity, make sure to include accessibility in your planning.
- Whenever possible, make sure that you provide multiple methods of communication, including telephone, email, electronic fillable forms, and in-person contact.
- Ask your web provider about their digital accessibility protocols and ensure that your users can leave convenient feedback. Whenever possible, engage a PWD to conduct testing of your web offerings.
- Be intentional with your choice of words, particularly when replacing negative words with disabling conditions.
- Never touch accommodating technology or equipment without consent. This includes working animals.
- Analyze your office space to determine whether physical accommodations may be needed, such as an alternate location, dim lights to decrease over sensitization, or the ability to produce large print.
- Provide captions and transcripts for all videos that you and your firm produce. All podcasts should include a transcript as well. All digital photographs should include meaningful descriptions.
- Familiarize yourself with your jurisdiction’s procedures for securing accommodations for clients, witnesses, and officers of the court. Also confirm how, and with what time limitations, to obtain synchronous sign language interpretation.
- When purchasing new technology for your firm, ensure that it is accessible for current or future employees with disabilities. Work accessibility into every vendor contract.
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