I wish that this were one of those satires found The Onion and similar publications. On April 25 at 3:00 a.m. Central Time the Department of Justice announced a new “Accessible Technology” section in the DOJ’s ADA website (http://www.ada.gov/access-technology/index.html). The new web page is supposed to:
“assist covered entities and people with disabilities to understand how the ADA applies to certain technologies, such as Web sites, electronic book readers, online courses, and point-of-sale devices.”
Unfortunately, the website does almost nothing to “assist covered entities to understand how the ADA applies” to their websites. A business seeking to understand just what the DOJ thinks the ADA requires in the field of technology can look at the section called “Regulations” to discover that there are no regulations. DOJ started thinking about these issues in 2010, but still hasn’t figured out how to make the ADA apply to the internet. Under the section “Technical Assistance and Guidance” the DOJ has an open letter threatening to sue colleges and universities that don’t make their programs accessible, a four page guide for governmental entities that was written in 2003 and includes a non-working hyperlink, and finally a 2007 chapter on websites that is part of the DOJ’s best practices for cities. Of course in 2007 the existing regulations for federal websites (the only regulations in existence today) were based largely on WCAG 1.0. If DOJ sues you today it will be demanding compliance with WCAG 2.0, so none of this material is of much help to a business or government entity that wants to create a website that would keep it out of trouble in 2016.
If a business clicks the “Technology Initiatives” it will find various materials aimed primarily at entities covered by Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, which does not apply to private businesses or to most Title II entities. The most useful section is “Enforcement,” which lists the folks that DOJ has either sued or threatened to sue in order to make it clear that despite its complete inability to provide any practical help to businesses with respect to what the law actually requires, DOJ is perfectly willing to sue folks who don’t comply with its non-existent standards.
In my next blog, which will come out later today, I’ll explain how a single judge in Pennsylvania has appointed himself internet accessibility czar. That, and this largely meaningless new website are symptoms of the fact that DOJ has lost the ability to provide leadership on the application of the ADA to new technologies. That inability has emboldened private law firms to file suit, knowing that nothing restrains their claims but their imagination. As usual, it will be businesses who pay the price for governmental confusion, and that price will not go to helping the disabled, but rather to making private lawyers rich.
What can you do? As I’ve noted in the past, compliance with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 will apparently satisfy both DOJ and private law firms, so a program to become WCAG 2.0 compliant is the best bet for business. According to most experts complete compliance is impossible for any complex website, and the minimum cost to upgrade an existing website is somewhere between $20,000 and $60,000, which is out of reach of most small businesses, but I don’t suppose DOJ really cares about that.