As a website developer are you at risk to be sued if a website you built does not follow WCAG 2.0 AA standards? You very well could be. Here’s a handy dandy release of liability for website accessibility template example you can use with your clients.
The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed in 1990 before the Internet was a part of everyday life for most Americans.
Title III of the ADA requires brick-and-mortar businesses to adequately accommodate disabled individuals (things like ramps and accessible parking). Still, there are no similar legal standards set (yet) regarding what makes websites accessible.
As the internet becomes an indispensable part of most people’s lives, the ADA’s interpretation has been expanded by the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) and U.S. courts to apply to websites and mobile apps. Yet, despite the lack of clear laws and regulations, businesses are being sued and held liable for failing to meet undefined accessibility standards.
The first and landmark case against a web developer
Sabre Technologies, Inc built the website for Wet Willie’s and was the very first web developer sued for website inaccessibility. The 2018 landmark case of Gil vs Sabre Technologies, Inc was basically a draw and remanded to mediation. Partly because the Plaintiff didn’t fill out the court paperwork correctly.
Several of the government sites they sued just settled out of court to avoid a court case. Most of the cases Gil brought were against the owner of the website only.
The standards for website accessibility are ambigious
But does that mean as a web developer you should let your guard down? NO. The main reason is that there are no clear standards for website accessibility. US Courts are coming up with conflicting decisions as to whether a site is required to be accessible.
The 11th Circuit Court in Atlanta has ruled that websites are not places of public accommodation under the ADA. The 9th Circuit Court ruled, if the public can enter a business’s brick & mortar building, it must comply with ADA standards for its building and website.
It’s quite easy for a website to move out of compliance. If just one image does not have alt text, the site can be called not accessible. So following WCAG 2.0 AA standards (or 2.1 standards) makes good business sense for both web designers and developers.
Because of this, it’s wise to get two things from a client:
- an acknowledgment from new clients about this lack of clarity
- a release of liability where the client acknowledges that it’s their sole legal responsibility to maintain any legally required compliance
We’ve worked together with Rian Kinney, an attorney that specializes in intellectual property and accessibility issues to put together a template for this acknowledgement and release of liability.
Use this release of liability for website accessibility template at your own risk. Consult your own attorney about what might be legally required and best practices for your particular situation.
(We are not lawyers, nor do we play them on TV. This is not legal advice. Please confer with your attorney about your own business liability.)