Bob L. Harris, Esq.
Messer Caparello, P.A., Tallahassee, FL
ADA Website Compliance- Florida’s Licensed Private Schools, Colleges & Universities
Over the past few weeks a law firm based in California has sent a threatening letter to a number of Florida private licensed schools, colleges and universities, alleging that their website was not in compliance with the ADA, and demanding money in a settlement. This law firm is one of several ambulance chasing plaintiffs firms who are trying to make a buck on the latest interpretations of the ADA.
Here is a link to a recent decision denying a Motion to Dismiss in a similar lawsuit filed by Harvard University, and a sort of Amicus Brief filed by the US Department of Justice/Education, in favor of the Plaintiffs (deaf group). The implication is that with the current administration, and the likely next administration (Clinton), there will continue to be a push to force schools whose students receive Title IV (which makes both ADA and Sec. 504 applicable to the school) to adopt ADA protections in their websites. Private licensed schools, colleges and universities are in essence under this, a public accommodation. The import of these activities is that all websites should be made ADA compliant. In other words, this letter from the law firm could result in a lawsuit unless that is accomplished.
As many have heard, this has been festering for some time. In fact, here is a document from the Department of Justice which shows this has been in the works since 2010, and may still not be finalized until 2018, but still, it is a warning of things to come (again, depending probably upon what happens in November). The plaintiffs are even going after airlines like Southwest (view link to case).
The issue of whether certain websites that cater to the public have to be ADA compliant has resulted in a “split verdict” across the country in courts that have addressed this issue - do websites of businesses and others dealing with public access have to be ADA compliant. Most of the cases have split based upon whether the website was connected to a brick and mortar facility. As a school however, it is less likely a licensed school could make the argument that the ADA and Sec. 504 do not apply.
The first thing I would recommend is contact your website company. Tell them to make your website ADA compliant. There are certain codes that have to be inserted to assist the visually impaired, as well as allowing viewers to make the content larger. If your website contains online video content, timely and accurate captioning is necessary. Here are the latest guidelines and a checklist, all of which should be familiar to your website company. Give them a deadline to get it fixed. I would not wait until you get a letter. Just get the website up to date and avoid being contacted at all.