As many Americans continue to stay at home and conduct their lives over the internet, online web accessibility is gaining a greater spotlight.
On October 1, 2020 a bipartisan bill titled the “Online Accessibility Act” was introduced by Congressmen Lou Correa (D-CA) and Ted Budd (R-NC). The Online Accessibility Act is said to update how the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) applies to websites and “increase website accessibility”.
Sounds great, right? Well, not so fast!
Online Accessibility Act: A Closer Look
After a closer look at the language of this bill, it seems that there are many loopholes and misunderstandings of accessibility best practices written into it. Rather than increase web accessibility, as it states it will, it appears as though this bill will actually limit the ADA and how it applies to technology.
Paul Grossman, Chief Regional Attorney, retired, US Dept. of Education, Office for Civil Rights (OCR) shares his worries around this legislation. He fears, “Under the terms of the bill, it will take quite a while to issue the necessary implementing regulations…” and that “Title III entities like Target, United Airlines, and Marriot Hotels, will argue that any claims or litigation against them must be postponed until the [regulations] are issued.”
Paul isn’t the only accessibility advocate sharing concerns. In fact, Lainey Feingold – disability rights lawyer, author, and public speaker – describes it as “dangerous legislation for those who care about civil rights of disabled people in the digital age.” Lainey then goes on to outline several clear red flags within this bill, including the following points:
- The bill only addresses a fraction of ADA’s coverage of technology
- The bill uses the wrong standard for compliance
- The bill sets up a costly and elaborate rule-making procedure with lots of delay
- The bill limits the rights of disabled people to enforce the ADA through private lawsuits
The Americans With Disabilities Act
Earlier in 2020, we celebrated 30 years of the ADA. This milestone anniversary highlights that the ADA was created before the web and mobile technologies were prevalent. However, the ADA does apply to websites, mobile apps, and other online technologies.
While the ADA does not outline such regulations explicitly, the Department of Justice has consistently applied the vague language of the anti-discrimination law to web and online technology. The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 AA have become widely accepted as the standard for achieving web and digital accessibility.
As Lainey Feingold puts it, “There is no longer any legitimate claim that organizations ‘don’t know what to do’ or that the ‘requirements are unclear.'”
If it passes, the Online Accessibility Act would not allow individuals with disabilities to file a lawsuit about an inaccessible website or mobile app until after completing time-consuming administrative procedures.
While the representatives introducing the bill see this as a positive, stating, “This bill solves the problem [of ADA lawsuits] by providing guidance to businesses on how to bring their websites into compliance.”
There’s no doubt there has been an increasingly large number of website accessibility lawsuits. In fact, 2019 was another record-breaking year for ADA lawsuits.
ADA lawsuits have been critical in confirming the DOJ’s stance and setting precedent along the way, pointing to Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) as an internationally accepted and understood standard. We have seen this in cases against Target, Netflix, Domino’s, as well as many others.
Yes, complicating the process will likely result in fewer lawsuits. However, if the true goal of this proposed bill is to increase accessibility, this must be reconsidered. It is simply a hindrance to the civil rights of people with disabilities.
This bill was only recently introduced, and we hope that it is defeated quickly. You can track its status here, and we will continue to monitor and publish updates as they become available.