May 24, 201601:16 PMLegal Login
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Handicap-accessible websites: Ensure your website is ADA compliant
Almost all businesses are aware of the need to make their physical locations accessible by those with disabilities in accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). However, many companies are unaware of the importance of ensuring that another crucial aspect of their company complies with the ADA: client-facing websites.
Not only is accessibility important for ensuring full customer accessibility, but it is also a significant risk to businesses, as more and more online retailers are becoming the target of class-action lawsuits for failure to institute online accommodations. Alleged shortcomings can include failure to provide closed captioning for videos, alternative text for images, and compatibility of websites with screen reader technology. Many e-commerce businesses have received demand letters in the last year from plaintiffs’ law firms threatening class-action lawsuits and demanding large settlements. These demands can be unsettling to say the least, and resolution of them in accordance with the terms of the demand letters often could leave retailers open to liability since the letters often include settlement with the plaintiffs’ law firm, not the class itself. Businesses should be aware of these issues and should plan to respond accordingly.
Complicating the issue, there are no existing regulations and accessibility standards under the ADA that expressly address accessibility requirements for websites. In 2010, the U.S Department of Justice (DOJ) announced its intention to issue regulations clarifying the obligations of state and local governments and public accommodations to provide accessible websites under the ADA. Until those regulations are in place, however, businesses must rely on several DOJ-proposed non-binding guidelines.
While the release date of a final DOJ rule has been subject to significant speculation, recent news has reformed the timeline. On April 28, 2016, the DOJ withdrew the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking issued July 2014 that had been a step toward formulating firm regulations on website content under the ADA. On May 9, the DOJ followed this withdrawal with the issuance of an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, which solicits additional public comment on various website accessibility issues, opening up the conversation once again.
Therefore, businesses should get comfortable with the difficulty of navigating the website accessibility world without clear regulations in place. For guidance, companies should pay close attention to the non-binding guidelines to which some class-action plaintiffs are successfully pointing.
In the current absence of firm legal standards, both the DOJ and private plaintiffs have relied upon the technical standards set forth by the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 drafted by Web Accessibility Initiative, a division of the World Wide Web Consortium. The goal of the group is to create “a single shared standard for web content accessibility that meets the needs of individuals, organizations, and governments internationally.”
Ariane Strombom is an attorney with the law firm of Whyte Hirschboeck Dudek S.C. who practices in the areas of technology law and corporate transactions, and co-leads the International Transactions Team. On July 1, 2016, Whyte Hirschboeck Dudek will combine with Husch Blackwell to deliver industry-focused legal services to clients. She can be reached at email@example.com.
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