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Web Accessibility Lawsuits in the Healthcare Industry

Jun 1, 2018

With the Internet increasingly vital to society at large, web accessibility is more important than ever. Nineteen percent of the U.S. population has a disability of some form, and many of them experience serious challenges when trying to research information, communicate with friends and family, and make purchases online.

As a result of these problems, a growing number of lawsuits in recent years have sought to improve web accessibility. These legal cases—at least 814 of them in 2017—allege that the defendants’ websites are in violation the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Title III of the ADA requires “places of public accommodation” to be accessible, and prohibits discrimination based on disability. In a number of rulings, judges have held that Title III of the ADA extends not only to a company’s physical location, but also to its virtual location in cyberspace.

ADA web accessibility lawsuits have targeted organizations of all sizes and from all industries, including a number of healthcare organizations. This article discusses some recent high-profile healthcare web accessibility lawsuits and offers suggestions for how your own organization can lower its risk of ADA litigation.

Recent Healthcare Web Accessibility Lawsuits

Frazier vs. HCA Holdings, Inc. (2017)

HCA Holdings is a healthcare services provider that owns more than 100 hospitals across the United States. Liza Frazier, the plaintiff in the Frazier vs. HCA Holdings, Inc. case, is legally blind and uses screen reader software to access the Internet.

Frazier and her legal representatives, the disability law firm Carlson Lynch, argue that the websites of the hospitals owned by HCA Holdings suffer from a number of accessibility issues that deny her full use of the websites. These include the lack of text alternatives for visual content and the inability to navigate the websites using only a keyboard. The outcome of the case is still pending.

WellPoint, Inc. (2014)

WellPoint is the former name of the U.S. health insurance company currently known as Anthem. The claimants in this case, Steven Mendelsohn and Sam Chen, have visual disabilities, are residents of California, and are members of Anthem Blue Cross, a WellPoint affiliate company.

In 2011, the claimants notified WellPoint about their difficulties using the company’s website, and several months later all parties agreed to enter into negotiations. In 2014, WellPoint signed an “accessibility settlement agreement” outlining how the company planned to comply with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0.

How Healthcare Organizations Can Avoid the Risk of Lawsuits

In these and other cases, the organizations involved could have significantly reduced the risk of lawsuits by complying with accessibility standards such as WCAG 2.0. These standards define a set of common-sense recommendations to improve your website’s accessibility, such as:

  • The HTML, CSS, and JavaScript code of your website should be correctly formatted and free of errors.
  • Website content should be organized properly and logically, so that both humans and machines can interpret it.
  • When necessary, website content should be supplemented with additional attributes such as captions and alternative text; such supplements can be interpreted by assistive software such as screen readers.

Final Thoughts

To determine whether your organization’s website is truly accessible, you need a combination of manual and automated testing. Get started with the Bureau of Internet Accessibility’s free automated report of your website’s WCAG compliance. For more information about website accessibility, get in touch with one of our accessibility experts today.

Use our free Website Accessibility Checker to scan your site for ADA and WCAG compliance.

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