Most businesses, including banks and financial institutions, have websites. It would be fair to say that today a business without a website is an anachronism. Now, most businesses must face a new regulatory framework regarding website accessibility, something that has been on the horizon for years but as of late is coming to forefront. Not only must websites be easily navigable, simple to operate and robust — for obvious business reasons — now they need to be accessible to people with disabilities. And, the issues raised here can also be considered in the context of employee use of websites and computer access generally.
What is Web Accessibility?
People who use the web have a growing variety of characteristics. Any business with a website cannot assume that all users are accessing content using the same web browser or operating system or using a typical smartphone, common computer, or traditional monitor, keyboard or mouse. The following circumstances must now be considered:
- Individuals who are blind may use audible output such as screen readers that read web content using synthesized speech or refreshable Braille devices.
- Individuals with learning disabilities may use audible output, along with software that highlights words or phrases that are read aloud using synthesized speech.
- Individuals with physical disabilities that affect the use of their hands may be unable to use a mouse, and instead may rely on the use of assistive technologies such as speech recognition, head pointers, mouth sticks, or eye-gaze tracking systems.
- Individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing and unable to access audio content may need video output that is captioned or audio that is transcribed.
The U.S. Department of Justice (“DOJ”) recently presented its viewpoint in “Statements of Interest” filed in June 2015 in two lawsuits originally brought by the National Association of the Deaf (NAD) against two universities about the alleged inaccessibility of videos on their websites. DOJ filed Statements of Interest in these lawsuits brought by the NAD against Harvard and MIT under Title III of the ADA and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act alleging that they had failed to caption the thousands of videos posted on their websites. Both of those cases are pending in court, and DOJ stated that a proposed regulation is scheduled for publication in Spring 2016. There is little doubt that there will be more website accessibility cases across the country.
In the meantime, though, DOJ continues to pressure businesses into making their websites accessible by threatening enforcement actions. In light of these developments, it may be wise to assume that the obligation to make websites accessible exists now — even prior to the publication of new regulations.
Making Your Website Accessible.
The international website standards organization, World Wide Web Consortium (also known as WC3), has published version 2.0 of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, commonly known as WCAG 2.0 AA. WCAG 2.0 AA has been endorsed by DOJ and federal courts. It would be wise to review these standards and consult with a web content consultant familiar with these standards and website accessibility generally. As a starting point, there are also free online tools that will check web pages for accessibility.
The key takeaway for now is that the law is far from fully developed in this new arena, but in order to stay ahead of the curve and avoid potential costly litigation and, more importantly, to adequately serve customers with disabilities, consider web accessibility issues now.
If you have any questions in this area, please contact:
Jonathan M. Weis at:
firstname.lastname@example.org or 312-368-0100.