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Brief: What is behind accessibility law suits


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The following is something I wrote to get my thoughts together for a briefing on accessibility of Alaskan state web sites, I thought it worth noting here to help others perhaps better understand accessibility law.


It can be found mirrored at LSW: Brief: What is behind accessibility law suits




The lawsuits filed so far have been based on these issues:


  1. Massive lack of accessibility resulting in the user not being able to use the web site at all to reach information or services.
  2. Complaints made and requests to correct the issues have been ignored.


Law suites against the state would be made under Sec. 508 of the ADA. The only current lawsuit in progress is against the state of Texas from Feb. 2007 in which 3 state employees with visual impairments were not able to do their job which required working with Oracle Databases. Complaints were filed and software requested and nothing was done so they sued the state of Texas and Oracle for lack of accessible software under Sec. 508. This is not directly web related but shows how the system works. The state of Alaska would not be sued immediately for lack of a alt attribute. A user must complain first and then if we did not improve the site (which we would) a lawsuit could be filed.


The court would decide of the case was warrented. The legal rule of thumb seems to be whether "reasonable attempts" have been made to make the web site accessible. Failing one minor issue on some (not all) pages would likely not justify a court case. I am, however, no legal authority.


All other news worthy law suites have been brought against commercial sites, and as Sec. 508 does not cover commercial sites, these law suites in the US, and Australia under the British Disability Discrimination Act (DDA), have not been based on the web sites themselves, but on the fact that a service/product was not made available to those with disabilities in the same manner as those without. So those with disabilities were being discriminated against. Hence it is not the accessibility of the web site that was brought before the court but the discrimination against the disabled as they are not able to access the service/product over the net in the same manner as those without disabilities. The web site is not required by law to be accessible, but the service/product offered by the web site is required by law to be accessible to those with disabilities.


One final note on the past law suites, in all but the first web accessibility lawsuit brought against Soutwest Airlines , the web site owners have lost the case. However in the instances of Ramada and Priceline , although they lost the case, almost no changes were required of the web sites as the court agreed that doing so would be to expensive and therefore an undue burden on the companies, also the suit only covers accessibility for the visually impaired and not all disabilities. They are wrong for not ensuring their services are available to those with disabilities however are not required to do much to correct the problem.

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