Business outsourcing giant ADP is the latest major company facing a lawsuit for alleged accessibility issues.
LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired, a non-profit organization based in San Francisco, filed the complaint against ADP TotalSource and its parent company, Automatic Data Processing, Inc, alleging that ADP’s cloud-based payroll and HR services are not accessible for people who use screen readers to access content.
Screen readers are software applications that convert digital text into synthesized speech. Many of LightHouse’s employees have vision disabilities and use screen readers when carrying out essential business tasks.
"The product’s inaccessibility prevents managers from doing their jobs and causes LightHouse to have to overstaff certain roles as a result; and managers, non-managers, and administrative staff are all forced to waste valuable time and resources in order to accomplish basic HR functions," the complaint reads.
"For example, for the past three years, during open enrollment LightHouse staff have had to compromise their privacy and rely on assistance from sighted colleagues or ADP representatives in order to make personal and private decisions about their benefits and compensation, because ADP’s products are not designed in a way that enables screen reader users to interact with them independently."
The suit was filed on LightHouse’s behalf by non-profit corporation Disability Rights Advocates in San Francisco County Superior Court. It notes that California law requires businesses to provide "full and equal access" to products and services to individuals with disabilities; ADP’s Workforce Now website and mobile app allegedly violates that law by failing to provide appropriate accommodations for people with certain vision impairments.
The case is one of the more notable examples of recent accessibility lawsuits. In January 2019, singer Beyonce’s company Parkwood Entertainment faced a class-action suit for violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) for allegedly failing to accommodate users with visual impairments, and in the same month, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals allowed a similar suit to proceed against Domino’s Pizza, LLC for alleged ADA Title III violations.
The takeaway: Businesses that don't provide accessible experiences can face litigation
As the ADP lawsuit notes, businesses have a responsibility to provide accessible websites — and in many cases, accessibility improvements can be implemented without significant expense.
"Not only has ADP failed to provide equal access by making its web-based product accessible for people who use screen readers, despite repeated notice of its obligation to do so, but screen-reader accessibility is easy to achieve," the complaint reads.
Some of the accessibility barriers referenced in the filing include:
- Unfillable Forms: Form fields should be clearly identified to allow users to understand them. Per the complaint, the ADP website contains fields that could be misleading to people with visual disabilities (for example, a "Name" field doesn’t inform users whether it requires a first name or last name, but sighted users would be able to determine that the field expects the user’s full name).
- Exclusively Visual Information and Features: All content on a site should be accessible for people who access the page with assistive technologies. The complaint notes that ADP’s website contains missing or hidden elements that prevent screen reader users from accessing the same content as sighted users. For example, a "COVID-19 Updates" button on the site’s homepage was reportedly inaccessible for blind users.
- Unannounced Changes of State: Screen readers must be able to inform users when a page element is expanded or collapsed. The complaint alleges that ADP’s mobile app and website contain menus that fail to meet reasonable standards, changing focus to new menus without providing context for users with screen readers.
- Improperly Labeled Elements: Per the complaint, various app and site elements were poorly labeled, preventing screen readers from interpreting them accurately.
"In the Dashboard, the 'notifications button' is read by VoiceOver as 'icon bell button,'" the complaint reads. "This label does not provide any useful information regarding what the feature is or where the button will lead."
Web accessibility lawsuits demonstrate the importance of an accessible approach
Of course, addressing issues individually won’t necessarily protect a business from litigation. Accessibility is a mindset, not a checklist, and the issues listed above make up a small component of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).
But web accessibility isn’t merely about avoiding litigation; with an accessible approach, site owners can reach much larger audiences, improve search engine optimization, and provide a better experience for real-world users. 1 in 4 adults living in the US has a disability, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and nearly 7 million U.S. residents report having a visual disability. Websites that don’t make appropriate accommodations miss out on an opportunity to connect with real-world users.
Moreover, many accommodations are relatively easy to implement. The recent surge in accessibility lawsuits highlights the practical importance of making those improvements — and the potential consequences for site owners that ignore their users.