Commentary: StarTribune Publishes Mediocre Article on ADA Website Lawsuits

A few weeks ago the Star Tribune published an article titled lawsuits targeting Company websites for ADA violations on the Rise. And there were a few things I wanted to comment on. First, there’s a stock photo with someone holding open a book and the book reads ADA Americans with Disabilities Act. And then the caption below that says online ADA compliance lawsuits have quadrupled since 2018 according to accessibility firm Accessibe. First, that is misleading, that stat, because quadrupled since 2018 does not tell you the story that in recent years these lawsuits have leveled off.

Secondly, I suspect the writer of the article either clicked on the first result, paid results in Google and decided to solicit quotes from Accessibe and integrate them into the article. They are mentioned three times or I think Accessibe played a part in being in this article. One thing you have to understand is that Accessibe is desperate for credibility. And so they try any number of ways to have their name be alongside other credible names and really in a sense, even though it’s more subconscious than it is apparent, have their name be listed as a one to one with other credible people. They desperately need that to happen to further promote their name and their brand. Because again, when it all comes down to what they actually sell, they’re just an accessibility widget vendor and an overlay widget when you look at that. And when the truth is known about overlay widgets, that comes off very poorly.

So they need to establish some kind of presence and authority and credibility and they don’t have it. But when they get listed in these articles and quoted in articles, the name the phrase accessibility firm is thrown around, it makes them sound like more than they are and that is something that their marketing team would really want to be in place. So that’s why I think that they may have led to the creation of this article. But I don’t know. It could be as simple as the writer was lazy and didn’t research and just chose the first paid result in Google, but continuing on, a local business was sued and everything from the article makes it sound like a very standard website accessibility lawsuit.

And so then the article starts to talk about how this came about and some of the background and the best part of this article are the Jared Smith quotes. And of course, Jared Smith is the director of Web Aim. And WebAim is the organization behind the WAVE scan. And one of Jared’s quotes is we are kind of in this nebulous space where any detected error could be considered discriminatory when the reality is it may not have a noticeable user impact. Not a lot of people know that, but it is absolutely true. Another quote that I really liked, and this is an analogy, and Jared said it’s like being pulled over and getting a speeding ticket on a street with no speed limit signs that said, if you’re going 80 in a school zone, it’s hard to argue you weren’t going that fast. So Jared’s really illustrating how this is a gray area, but how sometimes it’s clear that a website’s inaccessibility would violate this vague stance that the DOJ has, that the ADA applies to websites, but we don’t have a formal legal precedent.

So, as he said, it’s a nebulous space where any potential accessibility issue could be considered discriminatory. So I really like those quotes. Jared always spot on, continuing on. There was another quote from a Minneapolis-based attorney, and he’s quoted as saying, it will save you at least $10,000 by doing this. Plus it’s the right thing to do. I’m wanting people to not have to call me. So he recommended that companies should be proactive and have their websites audited. Continuing down, we have some background on the DOJ, their stance. We have discussion on the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. There are some quotes by Accessibe. Accessibe continually refers to compliance with WCAG, which is the wrong terminology. You are seeking to be in compliance with the law, not with technical standards. Even if technical standards are incorporated into the law, you do not seek to be in compliance with technical standards. It is the law that you need to be in compliance with.

And then there’s also another quote from Jared, and one paragraph I liked is, lawsuits are seen as the primary way to affect, change and improve ADA compliance. Smith said, These suits range from clear discrimination to frivolous, which is absolutely true. Sometimes with these website accessibility complaints, it is clear that the website has accessibility issues that would impede access or really be a detriment to the online experience. And then other times, the lawsuits are maybe they just copy the accessibility issues directly, or the accessibility issues don’t amount to anything where someone couldn’t actually use the website. So again, Jared Smith with really good contributions to this.

And then the article finishes up by talking about the law firm and the issues named in the complaint. And then the last thing in the article, it says, according to a virtual test. So a virtual test is weird. Phrasing. The plaintiff’s law firm’s website fails, quote, unquote, fails several WCAG measures of accessibility. And then the last line is, Accessibe considered the law firm’s website to be, quote, unquote, semi compliant with WCAG. I don’t know what that means, but that just sounds like something accessibility would come up with as semi compliant with WCAG. So you’re not WCAG compartment. I don’t know what that means, but that was Accessibe being mentioned in this article again, but I think it’s a fairly mediocre article. It does cover some of it, but this is not capturing the landscape in the background completely accurately. But the good thing is, Jared Smith was quoted and Jared did a really good job. Also, I think the attorney’s quote was good. He is advocating for being proactive, which a lot of people need to be proactive. So I’m glad he got that message out. But Jared Smith’s quote really bolstered this article and provided the exact alignment with what is happening and the reality of the situation and carried that forward into the article. So those are my thoughts on this article. I’ll link to it below.