Accessibility

Online Accessibility Act Seeks to Clarify Accessibility Guidelines for Private Businesses’ Digital Presence

The Beckage Accessibility Team is closely following bipartisan legislation introduced into the U.S. House of Representatives on October 2, 2020. The Online Accessibility Act, sponsored by Congressmen Lou Correa (D-CA) and Ted Budd (R-NC), would add language to the existing Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and provide much-needed clarity on the legal requirements for consumer-facing websites and mobile applications to be considered accessible to individuals with disabilities, particularly blind and visually-impaired persons.

If passed, this legislation would have clear benefits for both disabled individuals and online businesses that operate consumer websites, defined as “any website that is purposefully made accessible to the public for commercial purposes.” The Online Accessibility Act would limit the number of predatory lawsuits filed against business owners while helping them improve accessibility for their disabled customers.

Beckage continues to monitor the state and federal dockets daily and the number of lawsuits that are filed continue at record speed.  On average we see about eight new lawsuits a day. These website accessibility lawsuits are filed by plaintiffs alleging unequal access to services on companies’ digital platforms due to incompatibility with assistive technology, like screen-reading software. While the Department of Justice (DOJ) has consistently held that the ADA applies to websites and mobile apps, it has fallen short of clarifying the precise requirements, leaving businesses confused as to whether their digital platforms are compliant. As result, a very high number of these cases are settled out of court to avoid gambling with high litigation costs in such uncertain legal terrain.

“This bill solves the problem by providing guidance to businesses on how to bring their websites into compliance. If our bill is passed, job-creators will be able to avoid costly lawsuits and be given a roadmap for how to help their disabled customers access online content,” said Rep Budd in a statement about the Act.

“We are optimistic that this bill will provide some much-needed clarity in the ADA legal landscape,” says Beckage Accessibility Team Leader, Kara Hilburger. “It is so important to have universal standards for accessibility to level the playing field and help businesses best serve their customers while avoiding lawsuits.”

This legislation is coming at a crucial time given the rapid increase in online shopping due to the COVID-19 pandemic, as consumers choose to avoid brick-and-mortar stores in favor of e-commerce options. However, the future of the Online Accessibility Act is still uncertain given its introduction during a particularly polarized election season and an unpredictable political landscape hanging in the balance.

“Beckage continues to advise clients to be proactive when it comes to website accessibility,” Hilburger confirmed.  “There are many low-cost, high impact steps companies can take immediately, such as publishing an Accessibility Statement, that can place them in a legally defensible position while they work to implement accessibility by-design into their new online products and offerings.”   

Beckage remains hopeful that the Online Accessibility Act will gain traction and provide much needed relief for the business community.  Beckage works with businesses from all sectors and industries as they navigate the uncertain legal landscape surrounding website accessibility.  Through collaborating with in-house technologists, outside developers, members of the disability community, and internal assistive technologies, Beckage attorneys work under privilege to conduct internal and remedial audits of client websites and mobile applications, evaluate platform compatibility, and oversee implementation of recommended remedial or accessibility-enhancement measures.  Our team helps companies develop and implement a sustainable accessibility programs that contemplates compliance with the WCAG guidelines while monitoring the development of website accessibility standards and best practices that can protect your business.  

*Attorney Advertising. Prior results do not guarantee future outcomes.

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