OK before I get into this I will emphatically state that I AM NOT A LAWYER and I’m not giving any sort of legal advice here, but you can jot me down as a VERY interested party to this particular mess that is currently being made in our legal system. I would also like to make it very clear that I think making your website accessible to people with limited/no sight and the hearing impaired (for those of you that have video content) is a VERY good idea in general. I can spell out why that is later if there’s interest.
That being said, the state of this emerging scene is almost comical in its implementation… or it would be if it weren’t so darn scary to a lot of small businesses trying to establish a web presence. I made a quick Facebook post about this yesterday, but it bears spelling out in great and painful detail since the new rulings have already begun – as so many things in the regulatory arena do – to spiral out of control in a bout of (often frivolous) lawsuits from opportunists looking to cash in on the newly-opened hunting grounds of business ADA website compliance.
Let me make it clear that I am not a huge fan of spreading FUD – it’s a cheap way to try and wrangle business, and it’s generally hurtful to the reputation of the FUDder in the long haul… plus it’s just downright annoying. So suffice it to say that it is not my intent to spotlight this issue strictly for the sake of drumming up clients using cheap scare tactics. With that last disclaimer out of the way, I think there’s a storm a’brewin’ on the horizon. Let me give you some background on how I came to feel it necessary to write this post.
Noticing a trend
As a new small business owner, I spend a lot of time perusing some pretty good forums on entrepreneurship and small business operations. Around late last year (2019) I started noticing a troubling trend in posts. Every day or two would see a new post with a title along the lines of “I’m being sued! Looking for advice.” The increase in these sorts of posts got me curious, so I went back and started to – you know – actually READ them.
What I found in those posts got my attention. In ALL – yes ALL – of these recent posts, the lawsuits were over website ADA compliance. When I first started reading, it was tempting to dismiss this development as yet another online scam of some sort, but as I delved further into these stories, it became apparent that these were legitimate lawsuits. It was not a scam, not a joke, and not limited to business owners that were “above my station” in terms of revenue or maturity. They were attacks on newbies and startups just like mine… so naturally I started to dig into the situation a little more.
A change in the law
As it turns out, all this new activity was a feeding frenzy resulting from a Supreme Court ruling late last year that upheld (via refusal to hear) a lower court ruling that states, basically, that virtual properties – like your website – had to adhere to ADA guidelines just as brick-and-mortar properties do. The real kick in the pants here is that – while many small business will be held accountable to ADA compliance in cyberspace – THERE IS AT THE TIME OF THIS WRITING NO OFFICIAL GUIDANCE ON HOW TO COMPLY. Yeah, you read that right… you better get it done, but as to how to do that and whether your efforts are good enough, well… you’re on your own.
Who must comply?
Well, that’s… ehh… sort of another thing that’s in the process of being determined. As of right now my research has turned up only that places of public accommodation will definitely be subject to this ruling. That’s KIND of helpful, but the scope of what constitutes a “place of public accommodation” is pretty vague and potentially wide-ranging (after all – aren’t most of us considered a “retail store” per the answer to the first question in the link above?) Right now it’s easier to know who is exempt (Private clubs and religious organizations) than to know who is not.
What can we do?
This leaves small business owners in a bit of a quandary. We may or may not be obligated to make our virtual properties ADA compliant. If we are, then we’re compelled to comply with a law that has no guidelines – at least not legally. There are technical guidelines that exist, the flagship of which is the W3C’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (A FASCINATING read… if you’re a complete NERD). I fully expect this to be the template that regulatory guidelines use – when they get around to it – to base their regulations upon. Until regulations are further developed it is this template that Greyman Industries intends to follow while revamping its site to comply with ADA and avoid trouble with the Man.
Get in touch with us
Greyman Industries intends to become a local leader and the resident expert in this emerging regulatory framework, and we will keep you up to speed from now until the dust settles and there are definite guidelines in place. Until that time we are happy to help you in navigating through the technical hurdles that this new set of rules throws at you. Feel free to reach out to us with your questions or concerns – we have your back!