Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Can People with Disabilities Use Your Website?

Does your website have closed-captioning? If not, you may be violating the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). 

The ADA requires places of “public accommodation” to make their services accessible to people with disabilities. Places of public accommodation include areas open to the public, like hotels, restaurants, movie theaters, schools, daycare facilities, etc. Under Title III of the ADA, owners of public places must make these places accessible to people with disabilities, unless doing so would be too costly or difficult. 

This also means that websites of places of public accommodation must be accessible to people with disabilities, according to the Department of Justice (DOJ). Although the DOJ has not yet passed a regulation to this effect, it recently voiced its support of two lawsuits brought against Harvard and MIT by the National Association of the Deaf. These lawsuits allege that both of these universities violated the ADA by not including videos with closed-captions on their websites. The DOJ filed briefs voicing its support of the plaintiffs and arguing that the ADA requires websites of places of public accommodation to be accessible to people with disabilities. The DOJ also issued proposed regulations stating this. 

Business owners, school administrators, and anyone else who runs a place of public accommodation should take note: failing to have a website with closed-captioning, or that may not be accessible in another way to people with disabilities, may be a violation of the ADA, and could lead to fines and lawsuits.  

While the Department of Justice has not specifically stated that employers also must make their websites accessible to those with disabilities, that would seem to be the next logical step. Title II of the ADA requires employers to make their workplaces accessible to the disabled. If an employer requires employees to log in to a company website, and that website is not accessible to a disabled employee, this would almost certainly be a violation of the ADA. 

Ultimately, companies that provide public services, and employers who require their employees to use a company website, should ensure that their websites are accessible to the disabled. This should at least include having closed-captioning available on videos. Employers and businesses may also want to consider removing flashing objects from their websites, including larger font, and making their websites compatible with screen-reader software that reads the website’s text. For more information on how to make your website ADA-compliant, contact an experienced attorney.