01 January 2015
ADA Issues on Websites: Department of Justice Poised to Adopt Accessible Website Standards
Since at least 2000, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has been advocating standardized website development and content to promote access to blind and low vision internet users. In 2013, the DOJ withdrew its proposed Advanced Notice of Proposed Rule Making (ANPRM) which would have established standardized internet protocols by adopting the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0.
In 2006, we reported on the landmark case National Federation of the Blind v. Target Corporation, regarding “cyber accessibility” (a term we coined). Target was the first case in which any court ruled that the ADA applied to a retail website. With limited exception, the few courts that had addressed the subject uniformly held that the ADA only applied to brick and mortar architectural barriers, not to internet retail channels (Access Now, Inc. v. Southwest Airlines.)
Target argued that it complied with the ADA because its retail stores were fully compliant and that its website channel was not covered by the ADA standards. The Court disagreed. Plaintiffs’ class certification motion was granted. Target paid a hefty sum and implemented WCAG standards to make its website accessible to blind and low vision customers. The Target decision was followed with Rendon v. Valleycrest Productions Ltd. Since Target, the DOJ and other agencies have imposed accessibility requirements for web content and services in Consent Decrees and Settlement Agreements with such industry leaders as Amazon.com, Netflix, H&R Block, Hilton International and others.
Website standards are imminent
The DOJ’s issuance of website standards is not a matter of “if”, but “when.” The regulations will “establish requirements for making goods, services, facilities, privileges, accommodations, or advantages” offered by state and local government agencies and businesses via the Internet, “specifically at sites on the World Wide Web,” accessible to persons with disabilities.
On November 25, 2014, the DOJ Civil Rights Division issued its Advance Notice of Proposed Rule Making entitled “Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Disability: Accessibility of Web Information and Services of State and Local Government Entities and Public Accommodations.” These revised regulations, when adopted, will implement web site development standards which the DOJ has been working on for nearly a decade. CONTINUE READING →