On February 9 Magistrate Judge Katherine Robertson issued a 45 page decision denying a Motion to Dismiss in National Association of the Deaf v. Harvard University, Case No. 3:15-cv-30023-MGM in the District of Massachusetts. This is not the place for a detailed analysis of the opinion, but for ordinary businesses there is quite a bit less to this than some sources suggest.
The first statute discussed in Magistrate Robertson’s opinion is Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. This statute applies to programs or activities receiving federal assistance. While federal assistance programs are pervasive, the vast majority of businesses are not subject to Section 504, and so the arguments concerning its application don’t apply at all. More
A recent case from Maryland, Bray v. Marriott Int’l, 2016 WL 319873, at *1 (D. Md. Jan. 27, 2016) serves as a reminder that violations of ADA accessibility standards may also serve as evidence of negligence in a personal injury case. When I last wrote about this subject in 2013 (click the following link to read my post Personal injury damages for ADA violations – it can happen.) the case law covered the spectrum from ADA violations being prima facie proof of negligence to ADA violations being no evidence at all of negligence. At the same time, it appears likely that compliance with the relevant ADA standard for physical accessibility cannot be considered negligence because the ADA preempts differing state law standards (click the following link to read my post Pool lifts and preemption of state tort claims.) Bray adds another jurisdiction to the list of those in which an ADA violation is evidence of negligence. More
My clients often ask about whether doing a survey to determine ADA or FHA compliance will simply set them up for damages based on a “knowing” violation of the disabilties laws. My advice is almost always no, because the ADA and FHA are no-fault statutes when it comes to physical accessibility. Ignorance is no defense. A recent case from a district court in Pennsylvania looks at the same problem in a different way: Can ADA or FHA surveys be protected from disclosure as attorney work product or even privileged documents. Heinzl v. Cracker Barrel Old Country Store, Inc., 2015 WL 6604015, at *1 (W.D. Pa. Oct. 29, 2015). I think it is worth asking another question — do you want these documents to be privileged? More
My colleague William Goren (see his blogs at www.williamgoren.com/blog) passed along a recent interview with Daniel Goldstein (http://www.bna.com/fighting-accessible-websites-n57982065991) that shows, I think, a serious disconnect is between the disabilities rights community and ordinary American businesses with respect to web accessibility.
I’ll start with what Mr. Goldstein said about making a web site accessible. He said: “It’s pretty easy to resolve most of these barriers [to access]” and “the expense is usually small.” His examples of common problems including things like failure to properly use the “H1 tag” or to write code that properly moves the “focus” of a web page. “Pretty easy” and “small expense” are words whose meaning depends on the business involved. This blog was set up by myself using a WordPress template. I didn’t write any code, and I couldn’t find an “H1 tag” to save my life. I do know, because a web programmer helped me look at it, that this single page is created by about 1000 lines of computer code. If that code is wrong, fixing it would not be “pretty easy” for me or any of the tens of thousands of small businesses that use WordPress or similar template based web design tools. More