Milestone monitors and manages all aspects of website content and performance for its customers and the community, and compliance with federal standards and laws is an important and continuing focus. PDFs and images containing text may be found in violation of the ADA and lead to fines and damages.
Milestone has been watching the interpretation of ADA and websites develop for the last 5 years.
The ADA made it illegal for businesses to discriminate against disabled individuals by providing different access or experience for abled and disabled people. To prove a violation of the ADA, plaintiffs must prove three facts: 1) they must have a disability, 2) the business must be a place of public accommodation, 3) they were denied full and equal treatment because of their disability. For general ADA lawsuits, Retail, Food Service, Entertainment & Leisure, and Hospitality have seen the most lawsuits filed against. ADA compliance lawsuits have been brought against thousands of physical businesses in relation to disabled parking spaces and restrooms since it was passed in 1990.
States may have additional laws, like in California which passed the Unruh Act. For businesses based in CA, a business which violates the Unruh Act is liable for any actual damages at a minimum of $4,000. ADA plaintiffs usually argue they are entitled to $4,000 for each violation for which they file.
ADA Lawsuits for Non-Compliant Websites and PDF Inaccessibility
Lawsuits against websites began in recent years and Domino’s vs. Guillermo Robles was affirmed by the Supreme Court and returned to lower courts. This action has led to a rapid increase in lawsuits filed with 10 particular law firms have filed 82% of claims on behalf of some disabled people who could not fully use a website or app. Law firms work with disabled people who use text-to-speech devices to read the website and when their site experience leads them to a PDF that they try to read.
In 2020, Milestone has observed a new trend of sites that also have physical locations and use PDFs or images with text and no image alt text on their website are getting legal complaint letters regarding their PDFs. Because the text and images of PDFs are embedded it has always been difficult for other software and devices to read and use the content within them. The filing process often begins with a notice of perceived violation and may lead subsequently to an offer to settle. Amounts in the settlement demand letters or court damages decisions could range between $10,000 to $100,000.
This is the text of an actual complaint letter with the complainant name and business targeted disguised:
To whom it may concern,
Please be aware that certain components belonging to BISTRO CITY e-commerce website are not
ADA compliant. The restaurant MENUs are formatted as pdf and/or jpeg pages which do not comport
with Apple OS-X Voiceover screen reading software and therefore are inaccessible to blind and visually
The fact that it is electronically signed suggests that a law firm is already helping the complainant produce and distribute the complaints to build up the case load of targeted companies.
While Milestone has reservations about law firms fishing for lawsuits, it sees ADA conformance as an opportunity to improve user experience and expand the market for businesses that do so.
How to Make Your PDFs Conform and Avoid Legal Action
So, how do you make your PDFs ADA conforming? One option is to convert your PDF content into regular html. Another option is to follow a 20-step process that Adobe has specified which can be done using a paid version of Adobe Acrobat. Test it for accessibility, and if it is accessible, reupload it to the site.
Milestone can scan your site for ADA compliance violations and assist you in resolving them. Contact us for assistance at [email protected].
Milestone has been tracking and publishing ADA-conformance for websites for more than 5 years. Here is a webinar on the ADA topic, which you can still watch on demand.
Learn the basics of the ADA in this popular Milestone blog post: 5 Reasons ADA Conformance Matters in Website Design.