Some of the next major hurdles for web developers in the near future won’t be exclusive to coming up with the next cutting-edge design or transcendent functional experience, but making sure that the digital equivalents of handrails and wheelchair ramps are properly installed. With 1 out of 5 Americans living with a disability along with a significant portion of the population’s web users getting older, businesses will need to assess whether their offerings are adequately within the reach of consumers with accessibility needs. And while having an accessible website could make for a strong business case, adherence to accessibility may soon be the official law of the web.
To understand the current legality, let’s rewind for a little historical context. The need for commercial websites to meet accessibility guidelines came about following a 2006 lawsuit against the discount retailer Target that was filed by The National Federation of the Blind, or NFB. The lawsuit alleged that Target’s website violated The Americans with Disabilities act (ADA) in that by not being accessible, the retailer was discriminating against people with disabilities in “places of public accommodation.” Prior to this, ADA mandates did not extend to accessibility requirements of websites. That changed when a federal judge shot down Target’s motion to dismiss the case, stating aspects of the website’s services that are “sufficiently integrated with those of physical Target Stores are covered by the ADA’s non-discrimination provisions”.
In 2008, Target ultimately settled the class action lawsuit and agreed to pay damages of $6 million in addition to the $3.7 million awarded to the NFB for attorney’s fees and costs. To add, Target never published what their own legal fees amounted to.