We often think of websites as gateways to opportunity — opportunities for information, social connection, expression, collaboration, and even career moves. But, especially for people with disabilities, websites can act not as gateways, but as barriers. When a company’s or organization’s website offers an opportunity for a career, failure to comply with accessibility standards could give rise to lawsuits and liability.
Goldberg Segalla partner and Employment and Labor Practice Group Co-Chair Caroline J. Berdzik writes in Bus & Motorcoach News that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) establishes that “no individual shall be discriminated against on the basis of disability in the full and equal employment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations of any place of public accommodation.” She explains that “[w]ebsites that do not have software” to accommodate blind and visually impaired individuals “may expose themselves to liability.”
In April 2016, Caroline writes, the U.S. Department of Justice notified employers of a proposed change in rules that would have expanded the potential for accessibility claims relating to website content, proposing to use the latest Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0 AA) from the World Wide Web Consortium as the standard in the United States. However, it is unclear if the Trump administration will stick to this Obama-era course. Business leaders and experts in technology trends expect guidance from the Department of Justice in 2018.
Meanwhile, employment discrimination litigation involving website accessibility continues apace (there have been approximately 240 since 2016). “[T]hese cases have had very different outcomes depending on the court or the judge, which makes it difficult for companies to assess the risk,” Caroline writes. “While this important issue is hashed out in the courts and while we await guidance from the DOJ, best practices would point to auditing a company’s website to ensure compliance with the WCAG 2.0.”