A disability claim could be just a click away as cyber accessibility fast becomes the new frontier for Americans with Disability (“ADA”) lawsuits. Web accessibility was a hot topic in 1998 when Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 was amended. It required that federal agencies and their contractors make their websites fully accessible to the disabled. Since that time, making the Internet accessible to those with disabilities has been a low priority as most courts held that the ADA covered only physical spaces, such as restaurants, retail stores and recreational activities, but not the Internet.
That began changing in 2008, when the National Association of the Blind filed a lawsuit against Target challenging their website. A federal district judge determined for the first time that the law applies to websites when they act as a gateway to a brick and mortar store. And more rulings have favored the disabled. In 2012, a federal district judge in National Association of the Deaf v. Netflix became the first to rule that accessibility also applies to Internet-only businesses. Netflix agreed to caption all of its content by 2014.
This past July, the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) proposed rules mandating that all state and local government websites be accessible to those with disabilities. And early next year, the DOJ is expected to do the same for all private websites that meet the definition of “public accommodations,” which has broad legal implications for nearly every website whose operations affect commerce or fall into one of the 12 categories listed in the ADA.
Mari K. Rockenstein, Esq. is an attorney and law professor in Camarillo, and blogs at www.rockonthelaw.com