Advocates for Blind, Deaf Sue for Access to Website Shopping

March 22, 2013 in Advocacy & Access, Community News, Disability Law, Technology

Disabled Sue Over Web Shopping Advocates for Blind, Deaf Say Netflix, Target Are Legally Obligated to Make Sites Easier to Navigate
By Joe Palazzolo, 3/21/2013

Commerce has moved online. Now, the disability lawsuits are following.

Advocates for disabled Americans have declared that companies have a legal obligation to make their websites as accessible as their stores, and they’ve filed suits across the country to force them to install the digital version of wheelchair ramps and self-opening doors.

Their theory that the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act applies to the modern Internet has been dismissed by several courts. Still, the National Federation of the Blind and the National Association of the Deaf have won legal victories against companies such as Target Corp. TGT +0.88%and Netflix Inc. NFLX +0.44%. Both companies settled the cases after federal judges rejected arguments that their websites were beyond the scope of the ADA.

“It’s what I call ‘eat your spinach’ litigation,” said Daniel F. Goldstein, a Baltimore lawyer who represents the NFB. “The market share you gain is more than the costs of making your site accessible.”

Several other companies have worked with the NFB to make their websites more accessible to people with disabilities, including eBay Inc., EBAY, Travelocity and Ticketmaster.

Eric Goldman, a professor at Santa Clara University School of Law, said most courts have ruled that online spaces aren’t covered by the ADA. “Congress never contemplated the Internet at the time, and if they had, they would have included it,” he said.

But that could soon change. The U.S. Department of Justice is expected to issue new regulations on website accessibility later this year that could take a broad view of the ADA’s jurisdiction over websites. A Justice Department spokeswoman declined to comment.

That could mean websites will be required to include spoken descriptions of photos and text boxes for the blind, as well as captions and transcriptions of multimedia features for the deaf, said Jared Smith, associate director of WebAIM, a nonprofit group that trains and evaluates companies on Web accessibility.

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Thanks to JG

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