The Real Reason Local Governments are Facing More ADA Non-Compliance Fines

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin

Your community would never think to build a new office building without installing a wheelchair accessible ramp. Nor would it disallow a visually-impaired child to be accompanied by his or her seeing eye dog during an afternoon recreation activity. For all of the accommodations that your local government enforces for the approximate 19 percent of the non-institutionalized citizens living with a disability or physical impairment, why should accessibility and inclusion stop when a citizen moves from interacting in the physical world to the digital world?

Today, more than ever before, local governments are meeting the expectations of digitally-minded citizens by providing a higher number of digital self-service solutions. The days of walking into city hall to obtain a building permit or dog license are being replaced with mobile-responsive online form submissions and citizen request management tools that can turn a Tweet into a service request. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is also evolving as technology, and citizen engagement interactions evolve.

Examples of High-Risk Non-Compliance

In 2017, a refresh to Section 508 of the ADA expanded on the public sector compliance guidelines for digital citizen communications. While Section 508 of the ADA points public entities to the Web Content Accessibility Guideline’s(WCAG 2.0) detailed sections A and AA as established by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) criteria to determine accessibility compliance, municipalities wondering at a glance where they stand should ask themselves the following questions:

  • Are live streaming or recorded videos of public proceedings available with closed captioning functionality for the hearing impaired?
  • Does the website auto-play videos that a user with a vision impairment or physical disability would be unable to control?
  • Does the website include brightly flashing animations that may put an individual with a neurological disorder at risk of experiencing a seizure?
  • Are layered or juxtaposed colors of a high enough contrast to be discernible to colorblind individuals?
  • Are the website’s images saved with descriptive alt tags that would describe them in detail to an individual utilizing a screen reader?

>>For a more detailed assessment of your website’s current accessibility risk, this checklist outlines WCAG A and AA criteria, or you can obtain a free website accessibility scan and customized compliance report.

The Financial Implications of Non-Compliance

The consequences of digital ADA non-compliance can be costly. Entities may be fined up to $75,000 for an initial ADA violation and $150,000 for subsequent violations. While some city and county governments have moved quickly to enhance their digital offerings to meet WCAG 2.0 A and AA guidelines, too many others, however, have not. For public institutions that exist to serve citizens equally, lack of accommodations in the digital sphere has been met with understandable citizen resistance and growing legal actions.

For example, in Flagler County, Florida, a legally blind resident alleged the county’s website violated the ADA and discriminated against the visually impaired by failing to interface completely with screen-reader software, as much of the website’s content is provided in PDF format. The County reached a $15,000 settlement. For public sector entities that operate using taxpayer dollars, being hit with an unexpected fine of such magnitude can be financially detrimental.

An Increase in Municipal ADA Compliance Lawsuits

Any municipality that believes their non-compliance cannot put them at risk of financial penalties—regardless of their jurisdiction and its associated laws—should know that across the country, lawsuits associated with digital ADA compliance are on the rise. Since 2011, more than 142 municipalities were sued on the basis of accessibility non-compliance. Federal lawsuits are on the rise as well, with the number of federal website accessibility lawsuits nearly tripling in 2018 compared to the year prior, to 2,258 suits. Municipalities are not only vulnerable to lawsuits from local citizens who are seeking fair access. According to many reports, serial plaintiffs are browsing the Internet, seeking violations in a variety of public and private sector industries. Recently, it has been municipalities that have become easy targets for those searching for violations and seeking injunctive relief, and even monetary damages.

So far in early 2019 a significant number of municipalities, in Florida specifically, have come under attack. For example, a legally blind Miami resident has filed nearly 200 lawsuits in Florida and across the country on the basis that government agencies and private sector entities are in violation of the ADA by not taking steps to ensure that documents on their websites are accessible. In October of 2018, Orange County, Florida settled a lawsuit filed by the resident, agreeing to make all its information on its websites accessible to individuals with vision disabilities by 2022. Without admitting to wrongdoing, the municipality also agreed to pay the plaintiff $19,000 to cover legal fees and damages. The Palm Beach County Clerk & Comptroller’s office also settled a lawsuit with the same plaintiff for $9,500 over its county website. Martin County, Florida reached a $16,000 settlement with the plaintiff in July, and St. Lucie County settled for $10,500. The list goes on.

Minimizing Exposure Without Solving the Problem

As a stop-gap measure to protecting themselves from lawsuits, some municipalities have begun removing content that they believe may not be accessible. For example, the cities of Lake Mary, Longwood, and Oviedo Florida have reportedly temporarily removed public documents from their websites to protect themselves from ADA lawsuits. While this may help minimize their exposure to the types of red flag content that plaintiffs and their lawyers can easily identify as accessibility violations, it does not address the true need and responsibility of local governments, which is to provide equitable access to content for its citizenry.

Other municipalities have chosen to take the steps necessary to improve their website’s accessibility. The City of Portsmouth, VA for example, wanted to ensure the highest level of digital access for all its citizens.

“We are here to serve all the citizens of the City of Portsmouth,” said Daniel Jones, City of Portsmouth Chief Information Officer. “That includes citizens who are technology-advanced, citizens who are less familiar with digital media, and citizens who rely on assistive technology devices to consume digital media. We believe all citizens should have access to our City’s resources, so while we were watching the conversations regarding ADA compliance as it was impacting federal websites, we reached out to our CivicPlus account manager to ask if there was an integrated solution that could be incorporated into our current platform.”

>>Click here to read the full story about the City of Portsmouth’s approach to accessibility.

Why Don’t More Municipalities Voluntarily Comply with Section 508?

Why aren’t more communities taking the same approach as the City of Portsmouth and proactively complying with ADA standards? There are three common reasons why more municipalities are hesitating, even at the risk of financial penalty, to become ADA-compliant.

  1. High Perceived Website Redesign CostsOne cause of hesitancy for some municipalities is the perceived cost of a website redesign to enable compliant content and functionality. However, when compared with the potential of penalty fines and legal costs, any cost savings associated with a delayed redesign can be null and void.
  2. They Didn’t Choose a CMS Partner with Accessibility ExpertiseTo produce a municipal website that provides the kind of self-service functionality that today’s digitally-minded citizens expect, local governments should partner with a website provider that offers a product designed exclusively to meet the functionality and administrative maintenance needs of local government. They should also choose a local government website provider with proven expertise in digital ADA compliance. The first step toward compliance is to design a website that follows accessibility best practices. The second step is to maintain compliance as content updates, which leads to the third common reason for non-compliance.
  3. Limited ResourcesAt a time when local governments are more budget and resource strapped than ever before, some administrations believe they lack the staffing needed to both implement accessible content and keep future digital updates compliant. What many fail to realize, however, is that modern and affordable accessibility remediation software exists to help content management teams maintain compliant content through the use of such functionality as automatic alt tagging and integrated tools that allow individual users to make page appearance adjustments to address their individual accessibility needs.

The best way to avoid the risk of penalty fines and legal costs is to proactively comply with ADA requirements. Not to mention, local governments committed to enabling civic participation and building relationships with informed voters, should want to enable all citizens to easily consume online information and resources and utilize digital self-service tools. Humboldt County, California is a community committed to ensuring accessibility, and that has successfully leveraged its CivicEngage website and integrated AudioEye remediation solution to elevate its website’s accessibility.

“IT has several internal goals,” said Jim Storm, IT Division Director for the Humboldt County Information Technology Division. “Strive to keep current with technology, ensure reliable systems, and provide excellent customer service. With CivicPlus our website is optimized for efficiency, and we have a collocated geographically diverse data center and 24-7-365 support. We also wanted to be a leader among California Counties in web accessibility. When CivicPlus presented the opportunity to be one of its first clients to work with AudioEye, we tested its accessibility tools and features and realized AudioEye could help us get to the next level with its commitment to accessibility and digital inclusion.”

After a successful implementation of the AudioEye automated remediation solution, today the County continues to monitor and manage the accessibility of its content, relying on its AudioEye automated remediation solutions as the foundation for its compliance strategy.

“We plan to continue working with our web editors, our community, CivicPlus, and AudioEye to locate and remediate accessibility issues,” said Michael Tjoelker, Web Accessibility Coordinator and Webmaster for the County of Humboldt. “We are also continuing automated accessibility checks, weekly reports on new issues that are found, and staying up-to-date with the newest Web Content Accessibility Guidelines.”

>>Click here to learn more about Humboldt County’s approach to accessibility.


The proliferation of ADA non-compliance lawsuits targeting municipalities is exposing more local governments to financial risks, but it also underscores a need for accessibility compliance to help achieve responsible, equitable government. Local governments that have not begun the process of assessing their current compliance and learning WGAC 2.0 A and AA best practices should start now. To begin, obtain a free, third-party accessibility scan by clicking on the link below to see where you stand.

Working on a website can be difficult. Adding new media and updating pages is chore, even though you know your company website needs to evolve and become more accessible to the many users you are trying to reach. Maybe when you first built it, accessibility wasn’t even really discussed. But now you’ve taken a step back, looked at your customer base with a desire to include everyone and you’ve realized just how important it is to make your site accessible. However, the thought of building a robust site that can do all the things you want it to do is overwhelming.

What is Web Accessibility

A practice of designing and coding the website in order to provide complete compatibility in accessing it by people with disabilities. In addition, it is a way to improve search engine optimization only an ADA Compliant Web Designer will help you to make your website Compliant. Is your website compatible? By going through the checklist below, you can get the answer.

Assessing Current Web Pages and Content

  • The website must include a feature like a navigation link at the top of the page. These links have a bypass mechanism such as a “skip navigation” link. This feature directs screen readers to bypass the row of navigation links and start at the web page content. It is beneficial for people who use screen readers to avoid to listen to all the links each time they jump to a new page.
  • All the links should be understandable when taken out of the context. For example, images without alternative text and links without worded as “click here”.
  • All the graphics, maps, images, and other non-text content must provide text alternatives through the alt attribute, a hidden/visible long description.
  • All the documents posted on the website should available in HTML or another accessible text-based format. It is also applicable to other formats like Portable Document Format (PDF).
  • The online forms on the website should be structured so assistive technology can identify, describe and operate the controls and inputs. By doing this, people with disabilities can review and submit the forms.
  • If the website has online forms, the drop-down list should describe the information instead of displaying a response option. For instance, “Your Age” instead of “18-25”.
  • If the website has data charts and tables, they should be structured so that all data cells are associated with column and row identifiers.
  • All the video files on the website must have audio descriptions (if necessary). This is for the convenience of blind people or for having a visual impairment disability.
  • All the video files on the website must have synchronized captions. People with hearing problems or deaf can access these files conveniently.
  • All the audio files on the website should have synchronized captions to provide access to people who are deaf or hard of hearing.
  • All web pages should be designed so that they can be viewed using visitors’ web browser and operating system settings for color and font.

About Website Accessibility Policy and Procedures

  • One must have a written policy on website accessibility.
  • The website accessibility policy must be posted on the website at a location where it can be easily found.
  • The procedure should be developed to ensure that content is not added to the website until it has been made accessible.
  • It should be confirmed that the website manager has checked the code and structure of all new web pages before they are posted.
  • While adding the PDFs to the website, these should be accessible. Also, the text-based versions of the documents should be accessible at the same time as PDF versions.
  • Make sure that the in-house and contractor staff has received the information about the website accessibility policy and procedure to confirm the website accessibility.
  • It should be confirmed that in-house and contractor staff has received appropriate training on how to ensure the accessibility of the website.
  • The website should have a specific written plan if it contains inaccessible content. Also, it should include timeframes in place to make all of the existing web content accessible.
  • A complete plan to improve website accessibility should be posted along with invited suggestions for improvement.
  • The homepage should include easily locatable information that includes contact details like telephone number and email address. This is useful for reporting website accessibility problems and requesting accessibility services with information.
  • A website should have procedures in place to assure a quick response to the visitors with disabilities who have difficulty in accessing information or services available on the website.
  • Feedback from people who use a variety of assistive technologies is helpful in ensuring website accessibility. So make sure to ask disability groups representing people to provide feedback on the accessibility of your website.
  • Testing the website using a product available on the internet is helpful, These tools are of free cost and check the accessibility of a website. They may not identify all accessibility issues and flag issues that are not accessibility problems. However, these are, nonetheless, a helpful way to improve website accessibility.

Checklist of Action Items for Improving the Accessibility of a Website

In addition, while considering the above suggestions, the following checklist initially prepared by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for Federal Agencies provides further guidelines on ways to make websites more accessible for persons with disabilities.

This practical advice, as well as another checklist, are available at:

Satisfying all of these items does not necessarily mean that a website complies with ADA, but it will improve the website’s accessibility and decrease the risk of litigation. Again, an Expert or Web Accessibility Consulting & Services provider should be engaged to conduct a comprehensive review of your website.
Nothing brings you closer to reality than actually facing it. This is the premise of my latest attempt to spread awareness about Web Accessibility.
For better understand, here is a link in which a practical example is shown to make the websites’ user experience better by following the guidelines. Also, it tells the issues affecting various users on the internet with solutions.
You can make your website ADA compliant in an easy way by consulting the professionals, who can do this job effortlessly. Also, you can get a quick website audit from To Be ADA Compliant that offers complete web accessibility consulting & services in California, USA.