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New York Human Rights Laws

Web accessibility litigation remains widespread, with a high volume of lawsuits filed in both U.S. federal courts and state courts. Many state court filings are concentrated in New York, which has enacted two pieces of anti-discrimination legislation that run parallel to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA): the New York State Human Rights Law (NYSHRL) and the New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL).

Both New York human rights laws prohibit discrimination on the basis of characteristics including disability. Specifically, they state that it is discriminatory for any “place of public accommodation” to prevent individuals from accessing accommodations, advantages, and privileges because of their disability.

The phrase “place of public accommodation” is also found in Title III of the ADA. On the federal level, courts have consistently interpreted “place of public accommodation” to include websites. Given this legal precedent, if you operate a website that’s not accessible, you’re in violation of the ADA and New York human rights laws.

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The cost of non-compliance with New York human rights laws

Thousands of companies have already been sued for inaccessible websites, with the vast majority of suits based in New York. And when it comes to fighting a legal battle, these state-level and city-level laws allow for additional fines including compensatory damages, civil penalties, reasonable attorneys’ fees, and injunctive relief. In contrast, the ADA generally limits the plaintiff’s recovery to injunctive relief and reasonable attorneys’ fees.

Importantly, your business doesn’t have to be located in New York to be sued for violating New York human rights laws. If someone from the state is accessing your website, you are subject to state jurisdiction.Outside of legal penalties, there’s the intangible cost of a tarnished reputation. As consumers increasingly favor businesses that prioritize equity and inclusion, a public discrimination lawsuit can quickly damage trust in your company.

WCAG: The standard for web accessibility

To ensure your digital assets are accessible to all, start with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, or WCAG. WCAG is a set of technical standards that, when applied, make online content accessible for users of all abilities. WCAG standards suggest a site should be perceivable, operable, understandable and robust to be usable for all:

  • Perceivable: It’s important to present information that can be perceived in different ways, where a user can adjust color contrast or font size, or view captions for videos.
  • Operable: If someone can’t use a mouse, for example, they can use a keyboard or voice command.
  • Understandable: Information and instructions are clear and navigation methods are easy to understand and use.
  • Robust: Content must be robust enough so that it can be interpreted reliably by a wide variety of users and types of assistive technologies.

There are three levels of WCAG conformance: A, AA, and AAA. Level A refers to the lowest level of conformance (minimum) and Level AAA is the highest (maximum).

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Mitigate legal risk, reach a broader audience

As a best practice, Level Access helps companies conform with the latest WCAG standards, reducing legal risk and expanding a company’s customer base.Our unified digital accessibility solution combines advanced technology with manual testing, training, and legal expertise, empowering organizations to achieve lasting compliance and provide equitable experiences for all users.

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Our risk assessment will help you understand your digital accessibility health score and your current level of ADA compliance.

Frequently asked questions

What is the difference between the New York State Human Rights Law and the New York City Human Rights Law?

The New York State Human Rights Law is a state-level law, while the New York City Human Rights Law is a city-level law. Both prohibit places of accommodation from discriminating against individuals on the basis of many characteristics, including disability.

The New York State Human Rights Law (NYSHRL) applies to all employers within the state of New York, even those with fewer than four employees. It covers all “places of public accommodation,” which has been interpreted to include an organization’s website and digital content.

The New York City Human Rights Law applies to any organization in New York City that has employed four or more people within the past year. Like the New York State Human Rights Law, this city-level law covers all “places of public accommodation,” which has been interpreted to include an organization’s website and digital content.