Using the Law as a Tool to Advance Digital Accessibility

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This year’s 2017 Digital Accessibility Legal Update presentation at CSUN was a huge success. Prominent disability attorneys Lainey Feingold of the Law Office of Lainey Feingold and Linda Dardarian of Goldstein, Borgen, Dardarian & Ho gave a standing-room only presentation that was so successful, it required an encore the next day. SSB BART Group was honored to host this repeat presentation in our showcase suite.

The Law as a Tool

The presenters spoke about using the law as a tool to make websites accessible to everyone. One of the most important tools is using the laws that are already in place to improve digital access, which the presenters see as a civil right. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) covers Employment (Article I), the Public Sector (Article II), and the Private Sector (Article III). Although the ADA does not contain regulations that explicitly apply to websites, courts have consistently held that websites are legally obligated to be accessible to persons with disabilities. In addition to the ADA, federal laws such as Sections 504 and 508 of the Rehabilitation Act and the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA) create accessibility requirements. Many state and local jurisdictions also have digital accessibility laws.

How to Use the Law

Having the laws as a foundation, the presenters gave the crowd a few strategies for pursuing legal action against websites that are not fully accessible. First, the presenters mentioned that agency complaints could be very effective: lodging complaints with the U.S. Departments of Justice (DOJ) and Education (DOED), state Attorney Generals, and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Another strategy involves lawsuits. The presenters mentioned several prominent recent lawsuits, against Netflix, Harvard University, and Miami University of Ohio. They also noted a lawsuit against the state of Ohio, which found that Ohio’s paper ballot voting system violated the rights of persons with disabilities. The third tool discussed was structured negotiation, which allows both sides to come to an agreement without a lawsuit. A few companies that have recently taken advantage of structured negotiation include Anthem, Major League Baseball, Bank of America, and Lyft.

Elephants in the Room

Although digital accessibility has made a lot of progress in the last few years, the presenters pointed out a few ways that the progress could be scaled back. First off, the House of Representatives has introduced legislation to scale back class action lawsuits. Many digital accessibility lawsuits are class action suits since they allow individuals with disabilities to come together to take on large companies; the lawsuits level the playing field, so to speak. Also, many states are considering legislation to limit attorneys’ ability to send demand letters to clients, based on the perception that there are too many digital accessibility lawsuits. The presenters gave one statistic though: that only 1 in 3.7 million websites actually receive demand letters. Despite potential rollbacks, the presenters emphasized that the best way to continue to make progress is a proactive, robust accessibility program.

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