Accessibility, Predatory Lawsuits and the Real Issue

Recently, our AudioEye team attended the CSUN Assistive Technology Conference in San Diego. CSUN is the largest international conference on assistive technology. The conference brings together participants from across the industry, everyone from makers of talking pill boxes, to our colleagues at Level Access, Siteimprove, ADA Site Compliance, and the accessibility teams from Microsoft and Google who are leading the way in making technology more accessible.

We all have one thing in common: a commitment to making the world more inclusive through accessibility. That is what makes conferences like CSUN, USBLN and M-Enabling special, and different than other conferences that bring people together to simply peddle their wares.

We can’t speak for anyone at the conference, but we can share insights gained from sessions we attended and things “seen and heard,” that address “predatory” and “serial” suits, complaints, and action.

Accessibility is About People
First and foremost, whether complaints are made, demand letters are sent, or lawsuits are filed, web accessibility is a civil right. Entities either have inaccessible sites, are working towards accessibility, or their site is already accessible and continually strives to maintain their accessibility. To compare it to the physical world, they either have wheelchair access, are pouring the foundation for it, or have a ramp and always make sure it is unobstructed. The first scenario, in either case, is out of compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The second scenario is in compliance while working towards conformance with guidelines (such as WCAG 2.0), and the third is in compliance and conformant.

Whether the current administration provides further rulemaking on web accessibility is irrelevant. The ADA is alive and well, whether the Department of Justice (DOJ) makes more rules or not. The Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits discrimination of people with disabilities. PERIOD. Accessibility is about PEOPLE, millions of them, having access to the same conveniences and necessities of everyday life as every other American citizen. As life moves more and more to a digital sphere, accessibility to that sphere is necessary for everyone.

Rulings have been clear: websites are an extension of a business, places of public accommodation and therefore should be accessible.

Debating this is absurd. That said, we want to be clear: we absolutely, unequivocally disagree with predatory lawsuits designed to make money and force companies to settle. Our recommendation is DON’T SETTLE.

Instead, make your website accessible – that should get your lawsuit tossed out. Take the first step. Do something.

At the CSUN conference, our team did a session about avoiding the “paralysis of perfection.” Doing something to make sites more accessible is better than doing nothing at all. Unfortunately, predatory lawsuits give valid advocates and just, necessary lawsuits a bad name. Advocates and suits filed on behalf of plaintiffs seeking accessibility want accessibility, not cash. They don’t want to force settlements, they seek to force change.

The absurdity is that the argument soon becomes whether a website should be accessible or not. That should be a given. Valid suits – those that represent individuals and groups impacted by inaccessibility – are necessary.

As Lainey Feingold, a leading disability rights lawyer who focuses on digital accessibility, put it in her legal update at CSUN, they are using “law in the service of disability.” No different than Brown vs. Board of Education (BOE). Today we look at Brown v. BOE, and think, “really? Someone had to sue over that?”

Well, unfortunately, yeah. Someone had to sue over that because in 1952 they just didn’t “get it.” Until everyone does “get it” – in this case, “it” being that failing to provide Digital Accessibility is no different than saying “you can’t go to school here” – legitimate suits will continue. And they will prevail.

So our recommendation is intended neither as legal advice, nor a sales pitch, but DO SOMETHING! Digital Accessibility is about people, it’s the right thing to do. It’s also the law, but it is so much bigger than that.

Don’t settle with predators. Take things into your own hands and begin taking small steps. Make your websites more accessible and be more inclusive.

The following quote says it all:
Today, Internet technology enables individuals to participate actively in their community and engage in commerce from the comfort of and convenience of their home. It would be a cruel irony … to adopt the interpretation of the ADA…which would render the legislation intended to emancipate the disabled from the bonds of isolation and segregation, obsolete when its objective is increasingly within reach.

– Judge Jack B. Weinstein, US District Court Judge for the Eastern District of New York

Source: The 2018 CSUN Annual Digital Accessibility Legal Update
Lainey Feingold, Law Office of Lainey Feingold

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