Local leaders spoke at the Center for Disability on Wednesday to raise awareness for businesses to have more accessible websites.
New York state has the most lawsuits filed against businesses for having inaccessible websites in the entire country. The focus of these lawsuits has recently been on small businesses and wineries. Scott Osborn, co-owner of Fox-Run Vineyards in the Finger Lakes, said he was working on revamping his company’s website to be more accessible when he was thrust into a lawsuit.
“All of a sudden I had a number of phone calls and emails from attorneys down in New York city,” Osborn said. One of the concerns of these lawsuits is whether or not they are accepting a quick fix or actually seeking a way to revamp their websites to American with Disabilities Act standards. Bob Duffy, Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce President and CEO said these lawsuits can often be unfounded.
“The money that is being brought in from these lawsuits is not going to promote greater accessibility or support disability rights organizations,” Duffy said. He mentioned that it is important to emphasize education on having an accessible website and not looking for a “quick fix” from a settlement.
“It is people that are making quick decisions to pay a fee of $10,000 settlement fee versus hiring an attorney and going to court,” Duffy said.
Stephanie Woodward, Center for Disability Rights Advocacy Director for the Center for Disability Rights said the main goal of these websites should be to increase access. She said sometimes these lawsuits give the disabled community a bad name. But law firms are necessary for driving change.
“We have never supported lawsuits that seek damages but do not seek to fix the underlying access issue,” Woodward said.
Woodward said these businesses should be proactive instead of waiting for a notification that their website is not accessible. There are places like the Center for Disabilities that businesses can reach out to in order to ensure their website is accessible.
The Rochester chamber of commerce recommends business owners to seek legal counsel if facing this type of lawsuit instead of choosing to settle.