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Marine Business Face Lawsuits Over Website ADA Compliance

As a leading marine business insurance agency, we want to bring to your attention the need to be vigilant in addressing the needs of Americans with disabilities in all ways, including through your website.

photo of courthouse to indicate legal disputes
Legal Disputes Erupt Over Business Website ADA Compliance

Did you know that there has been a series of lawsuits targeting various industries, with allegations that they violate the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”)? Notably, the “public accommodation” provisions of the ADA are the subject of litigation, and plaintiffs are typically blind or visually impaired.

We suspect the precedence impacts marina owners, boat dealers, boat manufacturers, boating charter operations, and more. You may be wondering why the litigation now when the ADA was passed years ago in 1990. In the early nineties, people weren’t as dependent on the internet as a source for information. In response, in about 2010, the Department of Justice began working on developing guidelines for how businesses should make their websites equally accessible to blind and visually impaired consumers. The Trump administration halted the drafting of new regulations in 2017.

According to the Los Angeles Times, a specialized law firm analysis showed five thousand lawsuits related to inaccessible websites were filed in federal court during the first half of 2018 alone. Businesses hit by lawsuits include hotels, restaurants, and universities.

Earlier this year, dozens of galleries in New York City were subjects of lawsuits because their websites were alleged to have unequal accessibility for blind and visually impaired customers. Recently, there have been reports that a New York attorney has begun filing lawsuits against companies that participated in the New York Boat Show.

Since litigation is a concern, it’s essential to have your marine business insurance evaluated annually to ensure you have ample coverage.

As for how businesses can ensure they comply with title II of the ADA, that’s a bit tricky. Without clear guidance from the Department of Justice, companies are left scrambling to ensure their websites are accessible to the blind and visually impaired.

We are not attorneys and do not offer legal advice but from what our marine business insurance professionals understand, to comply with title III of the ADA, websites should:

•    Include special codes that allow browsers to describe images

•    Use text to share information on websites (not embedded in images or video clips!) that screen-reading software can convert into audio

•    Use video that includes an audio voiceover or described audio to relay all pertinent information

•    Incorporate alternative text, which is an invisible code embedded in a graphic image or a website URL link, so that blind or visually impaired consumers aren’t left guessing

Do consult with an attorney for guidance.  It pays to be alert and look into potential liability risks. Do technical research, and, if necessary, seek legal counsel. In short, take steps to make sure your company’s website is accessible to Americans who are blind or visually impaired.

Wondering how well your marine business insurance protects you from litigation? Be sure to contact the insurance professionals at Global Marine Insurance to review your insurance coverage.

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