Recent law suits regarding compliance with Section 508 have the attention government agencies and businesses that contract with the federal government. Two factors converge:
- An exponential growth in electronic documents: More and more information goes online and becomes immediately available to virtually every US citizen.
- More complaints: Electronic documents and web sites, formatted to “read” with assistive technology, can be made accessible to disabled users, and the law is clear.
Most Section 508 lawsuits are brought by an individual in conjunction with the National Federation of the Blind (NFB), part of NFB’s mission to support the complaints of it’s members. Adding the weight of NFB to these suits sends a message to thousands of agencies and affected businesses: If there is a legitimate complaint, your website and documents must be made accessible.
Department of Homeland Security Sued for Section 508 Violations
On April 26, 2013, Michael Leiterman, a lawyer for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) filed a suit against his employer, “for violating federal anti-discrimination laws that require the federal government to provide equal opportunity to people with disabilities”, citing Section 508 of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
Section 508 is an amendment to the Rehabilitation Act, passed by Congress in 1998. This amendment specifies that government agencies must make all electronic and information technology available to people with disabilities. Since its adoption in 1998, the digital realm has exploded, making Section 508 compliance even more necessary to ensure accessibility for people with disabilities.
The lawsuit alleges that DHS is in violation of the Act “by purchasing, developing, and implementing inaccessible technology, using inaccessible training and testing platforms and materials, requiring Mr. Leiterman to provide accessibility testing, troubleshooting, and correction for CBP’s technology, failing to provide reasonable accommodations for his disability, and denying him a promotion because of his disability and the agency’s inaccessible technology.”
Mr. Leiterman, who is blind, has worked at Customs and Border Protection (“CBP”), a division of the United States Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”), since August 2006. The lawsuit alleges multiple instances of violations, including inaccessible documents, intranets, and online training modules.
Lawsuits against government agencies:
The Small Business Administration (SBA) received an administrative complaint in July 2009 regarding its web site. This complaint was filed by the National Federation of the Blind and Virgil Stinnett, a blind business owner from Honolulu, Hawaii. According to NFB and Stinnett, SBA’s site violates Section 508 as it is inaccessible to blind people who use assistive devices and software.
On October 2009, NFB and Carlos Mora, a blind resident of Baltimore, filed an administrative complaint with the US Department of Education. The plaintiffs assert that one of the department’s websites, U.S.A. Learns, violates Section 508 because it is inaccessible to blind Internet users.
The Social Security Administration (SSA) received a lawsuit in August, 2009 regarding its web site. Again, the National Federation of the Blind, this case in conjunction with Margot Downey, a blind Social Security beneficiary from Buffalo, New York.
The Target lawsuit is arguably one of the most well known cases centered on web accessibility. On February 7, 2006, Target Corporation received a lawsuit concerning the inaccessibility of its web site. This lawsuit was filed by the National Federation of the Blind and Bruce Sexton, a blind college student.
NFB and Sexton claimed that Target.com violated the ADA because blind users cannot browse among products and purchase the item they want. Blind users also can’t access information such as employment opportunities, investor news, and company policies. NFB and Target settled the lawsuit on August 27, 2008 for $6,000,000 plus additional damages and a stringent ongoing monitoring to ensure continued accessibility. Since then, Target has made efforts to make its site accessible to people who use assistive technologies.
Charles Schwab was targeted in 2010 when a visually impaired customer made claims concerning accessibility barriers on the Schwab.com website. No lawsuit was filed, but a formal process known as Structured Negotiations was used. As a result, Schwab entered an agreement with the claimant to make improvements in 2012 to make it easier for people with visual impairments to use their site in accordance with the WCAG 2.0 Level AA standard.
Visit the website of the law office of Lainey Feingold Disability Rights Legal Advocacy to read full details of the Charles Schwab Web Accessibility Agreement.
More recently, H&R Block was sued by the National Federation of the Blind. On April 8, 2013 a lawsuit was filed against the company claiming they had violated Title III of the ADA. According to the official press release, the NFB “alleged that individuals with disabilities, including those who require assistive technologies, cannot access the information, enjoy the services, or take advantage of the benefits offered through www.hrblock.com.” On March 25, 2014, the court ruled in favor of the NFB, ordering H&R Block to comply with nondiscrimination requirements and Title III of the ADA. H&R Block was also ordered to pay a total of $45,000 ($22,500 each) to the defendants and $55,000 to the U.S. Department of Justice – Civil Rights Division.