What The Law Says About Accessibility
How Does The Law Work Regarding Accessibility?
Nearly every business or organization has a website to provide information, including a means of contact and descriptions of services. In order for all individuals to access websites, they must be non-discriminatory. Barriers within these sites can make accessing them difficult for those with disabilities and, more often than not, this inequality leads to change. The first step to achieving equality is to create a law with clear guidelines and standards.
Federal Mandates and Law
In 1998, Congress amended the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. The newly amended law, under Section 508, requires educational institutions, both public and higher education, to make their electronic and information technology (EIT) accessible to people with disabilities. This law is applicable to all federal agencies when they develop, maintain, produce or use electronic information technology. Those agencies must also give disabled employees and members of the public access to the same information that individuals without disabilities can access.
Web Accessibility Standards Continue to Evolve
In accordance with market trends and innovations in technology, accessibility requirements have been updated and integrated to include standards and other guidelines both in the United States and internationally. In addition, the standards issued by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.1) is now included. WCAG 2.1 is recognized as voluntary consensus standards for web content, not only on a local platform, but on a global level as well.
However, WCAG is not the only source of protection for individuals with disabilities when it comes to accessing and utilizing telecommunication devices. The American Disability Act of 1990 (ADA) was enacted to provide a clear and comprehensive mandate for the elimination of discrimination against individuals with disabilities on a national basis. Title III indicates that services must be available to all of the general public, including those individuals who have disabilities.
Is Your Website Accessible? It’s Time To Find Out.
Growing Numbers of Lawsuits
Growing Numbers of Lawsuits
Trends in Legal Action
Due to the rapid increase in telecommunication use, more and more web accessibility lawsuits are being filed in federal court. According to a recent analysis by an international legal firm Seyfarth Shaw, 814 lawsuits pertaining to web accessibility were filed in 2017. In 2018, that number jumped dramatically, with at least 1,053 lawsuits pertaining to web accessibility filed in the first six months of the year. This excludes the number of of complaints which also result in legal proceedings. At this rate, we expect to see web accessibility lawsuits and complaints continue to intensify in the coming years.
Precedent for Businesses Large and Small
These lawsuits have been filed due to violations of Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act. Not only are lawsuits being brought against small businesses and organizations, but legal action has also been taken against the Department of Homeland Security and the Social Security Administration as well. Essentially, no one is untouchable; if your organization has a website, you’re at risk of being not in compliance with set standards.
Past Cases in Web Accessibility Legal Matters
Target wasn’t the only large corporation hit with a lawsuit in recent years. In 2014, the Department of Justice (DOJ) filed a Complaint in Intervention on a case between the Federation of the Blind and H & R Block. The complaint states that H & R Block’s website prevents individuals with disabilities from independently preparing and filing their taxes online. A settlement was agreed upon and H & R Block was ordered to ensure their website and mobile applications conform to WCAG standards.
The Importance of Taking Action
If No Action Has Been Taken
The Impact of Legal Proceedings
Website Accessibility Consulting
It is important to understand that accessibility is not a one-time event, but rather is an ongoing process. Continuous steps need to be taken to confirm that the website does not fall out of compliance. Standards are often changing or being modified, so continued monitoring minimizes your risk of receiving a demand letter or lawsuit.