When Scott, the owner of Fox Run Vineyards, learned about the importance of web accessibility he set out to bring his website up to standards. However, he got sued before he was able to make the changes to his website. Cases like Scott’s are on the rise.
The New York Wine and Grape Foundation, claims that 26 wineries were named in a class action lawsuit for “failure to design, construct, maintain and operate its website to be fully accessible and independently usable by visually impaired people.”
A Growing Concern for Small Business Owners
The number of website accessibility lawsuits tripled from 2017 to 2018 and will continue to rise in 2020 (source: Wall Street Journal). By midyear 2019, the rate of lawsuits filed in federal courts related to website accessibility hit a rate of one-an-hour. This is a growing trend that needs to be addressed immediately.
The most common issues have been the inability to access webpages with assistive devices for sight impaired users and people who cannot use a mouse pointer.
For restaurant websites, this means having a picture of a food or beverage menu on a website with no underlying code to allow a screen reader to “read” the menu this is a major issue. I’d say at this point you’re better off not posting a menu then to post a pdf.
Both Wix and Squarespace target their services to restaurant owners, but many business owners are not aware that they need to make their site accessible. I see restaurant websites on Squarespace that have pdf menus instead of on the page text.
How Did We Get Here?
In 1990 the Americans with Disability Act (ADA) was signed into law by George Bush to ensure that individual’s with disabilities have equal access, opportunity, participation, independence and economic self-sufficiency as individuals without disabilities.
At that time small business websites were not really on anyone’s radar and the law was directed at buildings that lacked adequate provisions for access. For example: no wheelchair ramp.
In 2010, the law was amended to include websites as well, since they were also classified as a “place of public accommodation.”
The law now includes websites, yet there as not been time to define exactly what standards a website must meet in order to be protected from a lawsuit. While no formal standards are in place, many small businesses are implementing website accessibility standards developed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C).
Many of these standards were already being implemented by web designers, but may not be something that your average business owner with a website they made themselves would know to do.
Now, mobile ordering is at an all-time high and it’s never been more important to have you website up to standards.
How to Make Your Website ADA-Compliant and Mitigate Risks
Restaurant owners usually make sure that they have a wheelchair ramp and that restrooms have proper signage and safety rails. Your business website is held to the same standard as your restaurant’s physical location. It should be just as useable for disabled persons as anyone else.
So what does that mean for a website?
- mobile ordering if you offer it needs to be accessible to all
- hours of operation needs to be clear
- menus (need to be text on the website not just pdfs)
- online reservations (if you’re using a third party service on your site, you need to make sure they are also ADA compliant).
Making your restaurant website accessible is not just a way to avoid a potential lawsuit. It’s also good customer service. A good amount of your customers need your website to work with their screen reader or audio help. Over a billon people or about 15% of the world’s population live with some form of disability.
So, what can you do as a business owner?
- Test your website using free evaluation tools.
- Make ADA accessibility a priority for your business and hire a web designer who is capable of implementing best practices.
- Be careful what third party services you use with your website.
- Protect yourself with insurance.
In conclusion, getting a professionally designed website can save you money in the long-run and help protect you from ADA lawsuits.
Here at Magenta Collective we take this new risks seriously and seek to stay up to date on best practices. Our clients are protected with an accessibility statement and we also provide a handy tool to all site visitors who need to modify text, colors, or have the web page content read to them.