Wednesday, December 10, 2014

New Department of Justice Settlement Increases Scope of Web Accessibility Compliance

A recent United States Department of Justice (DOJ) settlement with Ahold USA., Inc. and Peapod, LLC (Peapod) expands the scope of compliance with Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which includes providing standards for accessible public accommodations.

Originally, public accommodations were defined as those the public could physically access, however, the DOJ has expanded the definition since 1990. Increasingly, the DOJ has concluded that this includes commercial facilities and websites.

However, this most recent settlement agreement with Peapod is opening the doors of accessibility compliance to include websites that don't have a physical, or "brick and mortar," location for the customer to visit as well as mobile applications that customers can download and/or purchase.

This means that if you build a cool game for a mobile device or even a better functioning email app than the one installed by the device's manufacturer, despite not having a physical location to serve the customers downloading/purchasing your app, you may be sued for discrimination against individuals with disabilities.

This comes on the heels of a Section 508 Refresh for the US which is expected to occur in 2015. Section 508, an amendment of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, had its last standards written in 2000. These standards are based on a larger encompassing Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 1.0, or WCAG 1.0, authored by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C).

It was a bold move to attempt to define standards that would give all individuals with disabilities access to electronic and information resources given the technology of that time. It has, in fact, been determined to include many holes to access, barely serving individuals with disabilities beyond visual and hearing impairments and missing other ability issues, including cognitive and motor function impairments.

As the standards were implemented, the W3C reconvened to resolve these disparities as they were discovered and technology improved. WCAG 2.0 was recommended in 2008, and numerous countries jumped on board to accept WCAG 2.0 as their standards for accessibility compliance. While the US books still claim we follow the WCAG 1.0, the DOJ has made many rulings in favor of WCAG 2.0 in order to provide access to the entire disabled community, including this most recent settlement agreement with Peapod.

As an institution of higher education that receives both federal and state funding for the programs we provide our community, we must acknowledge these changes to the standards and be ready to comply to the upcoming standards in a reasonable amount of time. That time is growing shorter as these legal proceedings show we've been receiving a fair warning of the future of accessibility compliance. I have and always will provide any accessibility solutions based on WCAG 2.0 recommendations in order for us to move forward as quickly as possible with the conversion of our electronic and information resources and ensure we are providing access to all individuals no matter their abilities.