On July 30, Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley, joined by six other senators, sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Barr asking the Department of Justice (DOJ) to clarify how the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) applies to web sites.
They believe that by providing specific guidance on this issue, the federal government will do two things: increase web access for people with disabilities, and "stem the tide of abusive litigation that lines the pockets of trial lawyers but does nothing to advance accessibility for the disabled," according to Senator Grassley's press statement.
As it stands now, while the ADA doesn't mention web sites, it prohibits disability-based discrimination by organizations that serve the public, such as government agencies and businesses. Because web accessibility has become a necessity of life for people with disabilities, and the federal regulations concerning that are unclear, lawsuits result. "Regulation through litigation," is how Senator Grassley refers to the current situation.
The number of web accessibility lawsuits nearly tripled from 2017 to 2018, and that trend doesn't appear to be slowing.
Last year, 103 Congressional Representatives sent a letter of their own urging the Department of Justice to clarify whether the ADA applies to web sites. The Department of Justice responded that it does, but didn't provide any specific guidance. With his letter to the Attorney General, Senator Grassley and his fellow senators are pushing the current administration to provide that guidance.
Specifically, they are requesting written responses to the following by August 30, 2019:
- Since our letter of September 4, 2018, what specific steps has the Department taken to help resolve uncertainty regarding website accessibility requirements under the ADA? What additional steps does the Department intend to take, and by what date?
- Does the Department consider WCAG 2.0 an acceptable compliance standard for the public under Title III of the ADA? Why or why not?
- As with the regulations implementing Section 508, does the Department agree that consideration should be given to the resources available to a business or member of the public seeking to ensure website accessibility? Why or why not?
- Has the Department considered intervening in pending litigation to provide clarity on these issues, or to push back against any identified litigation abuses? Why or why not?
While the country waits for the action or further inaction from the DOJ on the question of formalized web accessibility regulations under the ADA, it is likely that individuals and organizations will continue to defend their civil rights on their own through lawsuits and settlements.
As we learned in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals' decision in January in the Domino's accessibility case, the DOJ's failure to specify regulations doesn't excuse companies from having to creating accessible websites and apps. The appeals court noted, "While we understand why Domino's wants DOJ to issue specific guidelines for website and app accessibility, the Constitution only requires that Domino's receive fair notice of its legal duties, not a blueprint for compliance with its statutory obligations."
If you have questions about how the ADA might apply to your business, contact us. We can help create a customized accessibility compliance solution to meet your needs.