Accessibility litigation in the US

Ever wondered where accessibility litigation started?

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last decade, you will know that web accessibility is becoming more and more important. The first accessibility litigation occurred in Australia in 2000, against the Sydney Olympics web site, however it wasn’t until August 2008, when Target settled a lawsuit brought against them by the National Federation of the Blind that web accessibility really took off in the U.S. Damages were $6 million and they were required to pay NFB’s costs, which were over $3.5 million.

Prior to this case, when people talked about web accessibility they often meant complying with Section 508, which is a requirement for Government and Government-procured services. Target was sued under the Americans with Disabilities Act, Title III: Public Accommodation. Under this legal requirement, a web site is seen as requiring the same level of accessibility as a physical store.

In the early twenty-first century…

However, it is not only web sites with associated physical stores that need to be accessible. In 2012 Netflix settled with the National Association of the Deaf for $795,000 and agreed to caption all their video content by 2014. This was a landmark case as Netflix has no associated physical location, and yet is still required to meet the Americans with Disabilities Act, Title III: Public accommodation.

Jump forward a few years and there are hundreds of active web accessibility cases. Currently both Harvard and MIT are being sued for their lack of video accessibility. Although most of their videos have captions, the captioning utilises YouTube’s auto-captioning feature and is often inaccurate. The suits also claim that the video players used on the Harvard and MIT web sites are not accessible.

And it’s not just Government and University sites being targeted. Real estate agents are being sued for the inaccessibility of their sites – plaintiffs claim that they cannot access the content on the respective web sites to shop for a home. One law firm, with over a hundred clients in 40 states, has sent out over 25 letters to different realtors regarding the matter. Cited accessibility issues include missing alternatives to images, missing transcripts for videos, lack of descriptive links and the inability to resize text.

Department of Justice and Department of Transport are stepping in

The Department of Justice has also been sending out letters to organizations claiming lack of accessibility. Although official standards for the Americans with Disabilities Act were to be released this year, they have been postponed until 2018. However, it is patently clear that the Department of Justice requires compliance with the very well-known W3C Web Content Accessibility Guidelines.

The Department of Transport has gone one step further, and released a specific rule around web accessibility. This rule requires compliance with the W3C Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, Level AA and also requires additional user testing. This rule applies to US and foreign air carriers that operate at least one aircraft with a seating capacity of more than 60 passengers that have a primary web site that markets air transportation to people within the US.

It is clear that this is just the beginning for web accessibility lawsuits. With both Government and private firms suing inaccessible web sites, there’s no doubt it’s going to be a busy decade for accessibility compliance.

Have you received a letter from a private firm or from a Government department? Talk to us now!

One thought on “Accessibility litigation in the US

  1. Udi says:

    Great article and very educational. I believe that the readers of this article should get familiar with an interesting trend of accessibility overlay solutions, that enhances the process of code and content remediation, as User1st. Dont you think?

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