Accessibility

Confusion Continues in the US Over Website Accessibility Regulations

There continues to be ongoing confusion over whether or not websites must be ADA compliant in the USA, despite promises for clarity and guidance on accessibility guidelines from the government.

Driven by an alarming number of ADA lawsuits in the online retail and financial sectors, many corporations opted to build accessibility into their websites from the ground up by following WCAG guidelines. However, without any legal reason to provide accessible web pages, it was too easy for most other companies not to. This opened the doors to lawyers who specialize in ADA lawsuits and litigation soared, creating what eventually became H.R. 620, The ADA Education and Reform Act of 2017.

Passed by the House in February 2017, H.R. 620 stalled in the Senate  after national outrage over what the bill would do to the Americans with Disabilities Act itself, and its representing businesses rather than supporting persons with disabilities. This has left no solutions, producing a state of limbo.

On September 5, six Senators wrote to Attorney General Jeff Sessions with concerns over how the ADA applies to credit union websites, claiming these are common targets for lawsuits. This is not the first time Sessions has been asked to help.

“When it comes to web accessibility standards, the ADA does not provide clear guidance to the public or regulated entities,” the letter reads. “This void in the law has led to unnecessary lawsuits in an effort to exploit the law’s ambiguity for financial gain with little or no corresponding benefit to consumers.”

In June 2018, 103 members of Congress, led by Reps. Ted Budd (R-N.C.) and Lou Correa (D-Calif.), signed a letter, backed by the Credit Union National Association (CUNA) to Attorney General Jeff Sessions calling for the Department of Justice to issue website standards for compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This was followed in July 2018 by Attorneys General from nineteen states who wrote to Attorney General Jeff Sessions requesting clarity for applying ADA compliance to websites.

Credit unions seeking to protect themselves from what they feel are frivolous lawsuits points to the greater issue facing anyone owning a website that sells products and services.  Promises by several previous Administrations to provide standards and legal guidance for website accessibility never came to pass.

One major point of contention is Title III, Public Accommodation.  The ADA is written for physical facilities and buildings, not websites.  Lawyers claim that websites are not places of public accommodation, and therefore the ADA does not apply.

However, in the Florida case of Winn Dixie, a judge sided with a disabled customer who wanted access to website coupons to the online store the same way customers can obtain and use coupons when they go the physical store.

It should go without saying that waiting for the  Department of Justice to come up with accessibility regulations for websites doesn’t help companies with websites of any kind.  We are in the age of voice activation, assistive technologies and improved understanding of how people use computer devices to access websites.  In fact, many major corporations employ persons with special needs, recognizing the benefits of inclusion.

Resources:

For global web accessibility regulations, the bar is raised. Find your country here.
Removing Barriers to Your Websites and Software
Why Did Winn Dixie Lose the Accessibility Lawsuit?