Since late September, a New York City man has filed class action lawsuits against at least nine area colleges and university—including Fordham University, Hofstra University, and DeVry University—for having inaccessible websites, in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and the New York Human Rights Law.
The plaintiff in the nine suits, Emanuel Delacruz, is legally blind and uses screen reader software to access the internet. In his complaints, Delacruz claims that he attempted to visit the universities’ websites to learn about programs offered, admissions requirements, and other information, but was not able to do so because the sites were not screen reader-compatible. Delacruz alleges this violates the ADA and other laws because he and others who use screen-readers to access the internet are denied the products and services of these universities.
In 2015, the American Foundation for the Blind estimated that 400,000 people who are blind or visually impaired lived in the state of New York. But because New York area universities draw students from across the country, the class of people potentially affected by the inaccessible websites could be quite large.
While many universities view digital accessibility primarily through the lens of threatened lawsuits, accessibility can also be an opportunity for universities across the country. By acting proactively to make their websites accessible, universities can better attract and serve students and faculty who are disabled, and can avoid the negative press associated with law suits.
Colleges and universities exist to educate their students; accessible websites ensure that everyone has the ability to pursue education, regardless of disability.