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Managing Your Church Blog, June, 2019
Could Your Church Face an ADA Noncompliance Lawsuit for Its Website or App?
What to know about this rising trend in litigation.
Could Your Church Face an ADA Noncompliance Lawsuit for Its Website or App?

Our webhost recently brought to my attention a trend in lawsuits targeting websites and apps for their failures to comply with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA). Could your church or ministry face such a claim? I have good news—read on!

What is the issue?

In 2016, more than 240 lawsuits were filed—most of them class-action lawsuits—alleging websites and apps failed to comply with the ADA. In 2017, there were 814 lawsuits for ADA noncompliant websites and apps. In 2018, that number nearly tripled to 2,258. The Los Angeles Times suggested the trend is expanding even faster, reporting there were nearly 5,000 of these lawsuits in the first six months of 2018. The newspaper estimated the 2018 count would eventually reach 10,000.

Regardless of the actual numbers, one thing is clear: This trend is climbing at a fast pace.

What’s at issue is whether a website or app can be used by those who have difficulty seeing or hearing.

The problem, according to our webhost, is that lawsuits are being quickly settled for cash. This is leading to the rapid expansion of these lawsuits.

How this impacts the church

I consulted with a couple of our favorite attorneys that focus on churches, and they told me churches are exempt from the public accommodation requirements of the federal ADA. (Keep in mind, however, that state disability laws vary, and confirming this with competent local counsel is a good idea.)

One of those attorneys, Frank Sommerville, said most churches are not aware of their rights under ADA. Church leaders can learn more about these rights by searching the term “ADA” on ChurchLawandTax.com.

That churches are exempt is a crucial point. But many church and ministry leaders don’t know about this exemption and might be among those who are quick to settle for cash—unnecessarily. Be aware of this if your church or ministry is accused of having a website or app that is not compliant with the federal ADA.

Take the ADA challenge

Though churches are not subject to the public accommodation requirements of the ADA, we shouldn’t end the discussion there.

Our mission is communicating the Good News to everyone everywhere, as Jesus commands with the Great Commission in Matthew 28.

So what about those who have difficulty hearing and/or seeing?

We, the church, would do well to evaluate our websites and apps in light of this need to reach the hearing and seeing impaired well. A few tweaks can go a long way in solving the two primary issues driving these lawsuits:

  1. Coding the website so that screen-reading software can read the content, and
  2. Including subtitles and audio descriptions in video clips.

We recommend reviewing your website content and looking to see if there are any other challenges that could affect someone who has a visual or hearing impairment. Even though churches aren’t at legal risk, such accommodations are part of our calling.

Nick Nicholaou is author of Church IT: Using Information Technology for the Mission of The Church and is president of MBS, an IT consulting firm specializing in church and ministry computer networks, VoIP, and private cloud hosted services.