Website Accessibility under the ADA for REALTORS®
August 24, 2020
Lawsuits or letters threatening litigation over website accessibility continue to proliferate the real estate industry. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires certain businesses to make their websites accessible to those with disabilities. Even those businesses that do not fall under the requirements of the ADA can be sued or threatened with litigation over website accessibility. This article explains why knowledge of the ADA matters, which businesses fall under the ADA’s website accessibility requirements, what is required, and tips on how to comply.
Why it matters?
First and foremost, consider that over 57 million people have one or more disabilities. Accessibility for the disabled means that websites are more inclusive and reach more people. Second, the risk of a claim or threat of a claim, legitimate or not, should make business owners pause. Reports are widespread of real estate companies receiving so-called demand letters, in which the sender threatens litigation for non-compliance with the ADA and requests a phone conversation to discuss the violations.
Which businesses are covered?
The ADA covers several types of businesses. The first type falls under Title I of the ADA, which covers any business with at least 15 full-time employees that operates for 20 or more weeks every year. The second type falls under Title III of the ADA, which covers places of “public accommodation.” REALTORS®' websites typically fall under one or both of these categories.
What does the ADA require?
While specific regulations for websites to comply with the ADA do not exist, litigation and court opinions have provided the impetus for compliance. For websites, this has come down to accessibility and/or use issues. This means that websites must provide reasonable accommodations for those with disabilities (i.e., vision impaired, physical disability, etc.) to use the website. Reasonable accommodations may include voice overs, closed captioning, adaptive software, etc.
How to make your website accessible?
If your website is not accessible to disabled persons, contact your website administrator and request accessibility changes. Even if your website is accessible, you can ask your website administrator or a third-party IT expert to audit your website for necessary accessibility improvements. Today, there are quite a few resources to make websites accessible.
What to do upon receiving a demand letter?
Call your attorney and insurance carrier to discuss the complaint. Calling the author of the letter without an attorney can negatively impact your defense if a complaint is filed. Also, contact your website administrator to determine if the letter identifies any items in need of correction and make those corrections. On a final note, notify the Alabama Association of REALTORS® so we can better prepare other members. For more information on this topic, see this one pager from Pearl Insurance or go to the Independent Insurance Agents Association’s ADA webpage here.
NAR Update - 8/24/2020
As mentioned above, letters alleging website accessibility issues are going out to real estate agents. REALTORS® in Florida, Maryland, and New York have received demand letters alleging fair housing claims of website inaccessibility for disabled individuals. In response, NAR’s General Counsel, Katie Johnson, issued a letter challenging the allegations and questioning the standing of the attorney who sent the letter and the corporation on whose behalf the attorney sent the letter. You can read the letter here. The takeaways here are to consult a lawyer whenever you receive a demand letter and to contact the REALTOR® Association when you receive letters that impact the industry.