An article in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal brings attention to the growing number of lawsuits being filed against businesses under the ADA due to inaccessible websites. The article mentions lawsuits against Target and Netflix among others, and settlements between the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) and several companies including online retailers eBay and Ticketmaster, and job search website Monster.com to name a few.
The reality of the application of the ADA to the Internet is unclear. Depending on what circuit court has jurisdiction a website may, may not or may in part be a public accommodation. The Target case for example, which settled in 2008, marked the first time a federal district judge ruled that the ADA applied to websites when they act as a gateway to a brick-and-mortar store. Last year a federal district judge in Massachusetts became the first to rule that the ADA’s accessibility requirements apply to website-only businesses, stating that regardless of the fact that the ADA didn’t specifically mention web-based services, the legislative history made it clear that congress intended the law to adapt to technology. In addition, The U.S. Department of Justice is expected to issue new regulations on website accessibility later this year that are expected to take a much broader view of the ADA’s jurisdiction over websites. (Two recent blog posts offer SSB’s current recommendations in regards to ADA compliance, both for private sector websites as well as government websites)
SSB’s CEO Tim Springer is quoted in the article, making the case for companies adding accessibility features into their site from the start, vs. having to perform more costly retrofitting later. He states that companies can expect to pay about 10% of their total website costs on retrofitting, but if they phase in accessibility as they naturally upgrade their website, they usually spend much less – between 1% and 3%.
You can read the full article here. I highly recommend checking out the comments on this one – the article already has 135 (rather heated) comments from both sides of the fence at the time of this writing.