Is Your Website Built for Accessibility?
Companies around the country are facing lawsuits and demand letters alleging that their websites are not “accessible” for disabled individuals. Generally, Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act requires places that are open to the public to not discriminate against individuals due to their disability or otherwise deny them “the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages or accommodations of any place of public accommodation.” These rules apply to any Company that permits entry by the public. However, the rules may apply to the internet domain as well.
Presently, there is no specific legal requirement for websites. Although the Department of Justice is expected to release “accessibility” guidelines for webpages, it looks like these guidelines (which should provide details of what is and is not compliant under the Americans with Disabilities Act) will not be released until 2018. Despite the fact that there is no clear rule defining what is required to make a website accessible, both the DOJ and private plaintiffs have been busy filing lawsuits claiming that individuals with vision related disabilities have been denied access to websites. Claims already have been brought against several national retailers, including Patagonia, Ace Hardware, Aeropostale, Bed Bath and Beyond, and many others. At least 45 of these lawsuits were filed in 2015, and that number is expected to increase substantially in 2016.
Whenever they are released, the DOJ’s regulations are expected to focus on the size and type of content on a website, and the complexity of navigating the content. There are many options to improve accessibility, but some include removing time limits if a user does not respond quickly enough, providing audio versions of text (through links or otherwise) and providing keyboard control for website functions (i.e., disabling mouse only functions).
Although there is no “one-size fits all” approach that ensures compliance, we recommend meeting with a website designer to discuss whether your website can be updated to provide accessible options at a reasonable cost.
One key area to focus on is alt-text features that can make the website more accessible for individuals using screen-reader technology. In addition, it is possible that a company may be compliant by providing a traditional webpage and an alternative “accessible” webpage, similar to what we already see with “mobile-friendly” versions of webpages.
About Our Guest Blogger
Martin B. Heller is a Partner in the Labor Law and Employment Litigation Section of Freeman Mathis & Gary. Mr. Heller represents public and private sector employers in all aspects of employment litigation, including wage and hour claims, employment discrimination claims, family and medical leave claims and employment contracts. He works with employers to develop restrictive covenants and other procedures for their workplaces, and advises employers on issues arising from the employment relationship. Mr. Heller also assists federal contractor employers with issues arising from adherence to the rules and regulations developed by the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP).