As those interested in website accessibility regulations under Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) know, the Department of Justice announced in May 2016 that it would issue a rule governing website accessibility standards for places of public accommodation to take effect in 2018. It now appears that we can expect an even longer indefinite delay. Last month, the Trump Administration launched its Unified Regulatory Agenda, which “provides an updated report on the actions administrative agencies plan to issue in the near and long term.” The Agenda is meant to effectuate Executive Orders 13771 and 13777, which require agencies to reduce unnecessary regulatory burden. According to the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, the Agenda “represents the beginning of fundamental regulatory reform and a reorientation toward reducing unnecessary regulatory burden on the American people. By amending and eliminating regulations that are ineffective, duplicative, and obsolete, the Administration can promote economic growth and innovation and protect individual liberty.” READ MORE
On Tuesday, a federal district court in Florida issued an order in the first known trial involving accessibility to a public accommodation’s website. Ultimately, the court found that grocery giant Winn-Dixie violated Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) because its website was inaccessible to a visually impaired customer. As we have written about previously here and here, currently there are no binding regulations that specify the accessibility standards for websites under Title III of the ADA.
When the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was enacted in 1990, computers used floppy disks and the “World Wide Web” was still being tested by scientists at CERN. So while the law’s drafters had a good sense of what access would look like in the physical world, they had no idea what sort of economic and social changes were in store with the birth of the Internet.
Fast forward to 2016, and the law is still murky as to disability access issues online. But that uncertainty has not stopped the plaintiffs’ bar from filing lawsuits claiming that websites are inaccessible to users with disabilities and thus violate the ADA.
Many disabled individuals access the Internet using assistive technologies. For example, blind individuals or those with low vision can use screen readers that read website content aloud for them. Websites that are incompatible with assistive technology can create barriers for users with disabilities and give rise to costly and uncertain litigation.