The State of New York Could Become the First to Hold Businesses to an Accessibility Standard
May 31, 2019
The Digital Accessibility Current Landscape: Litigation, but no Legislation
Federal Lawsuits alleging discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by organizations with inaccessible websites, digital documents, and video content have proliferated rapidly in the past few years. A major reason for this trend is the absence of specific accessibility guidelines for private sector businesses in Federal anti-discrimination laws like the ADA. In that absence, a few law firms specializing in this type of litigation have filed thousands of suits, which are often settled out of court. These settlements costs thousands of dollars in “damages” and legal fees to businesses, and often, additional suits pop up after an initial settlement. As a result, businesses are left with little direction and huge liability, and users with disabilities are left without access to vital information and services.
New York State Aims to Take a Stand
One state legislative body is looking to change that paradigm, reduce confusion for businesses, and increase accountability for serving people with disabilities by creating new legislation around digital access that hold businesses accountable to a defined standard. The New York Senate Internet and Technology Committee, chaired by Senator Diane Savino, is looking into potential legislation to regulate businesses operating in the State with regards to digital accessibility1. In 2018, 1,564 of the known 2,258 lawsuits filed in Federal Courts alleging inaccessible websites violated the ADA came out of New York2.
What Can We Expect?
The Committee is examining multiple ways to accomplish that, including new legislation specific to digital access that imposes a specific set of guidelines and a timeframe for compliance, and a so-called “notice-and-cure bill” which would give organizations a set amount of time after a demand letter or lawsuit is received to address digital accessibility3. Regardless of which avenues they choose to try and regulate this space, State lawmakers have goals in mind to help both small businesses and residents with disabilities. There are multiple important things they have to consider when ideating such legislation, including what standard should be applied (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) is the ISO recognized standard right now), how legacy content such as older PDF’s and videos should be regulated, how long of a compliance period to give, how to account for third party developers and contractors that work on digital content, and emerging technologies that will need to be considered in the future.
What Can Businesses Do to Prepare?
The most important thing for businesses to do in the absence of Federal or State guidelines for digital accessibility is to remain proactive, educate themselves, and create and share an accessibility plan to show good faith efforts to address the issue for their customers and users. The Viscardi Center’s Digital Accessibility Services team’s recent blog, 5 Step Digital Accessibility Playbook, provides guidance. Ultimately, the onus of accessibility is on the organizations that maintain websites, digital documents, and video content. It is their responsibility to accommodate people with disabilities to ensure they have equal access to the same products, services, and information as any other customers.
Chief Information Officer, The Viscardi Center
Michael oversees all aspects of technology at The Viscardi Center, where he implements and innovates accessibility for students, staff, and faculty.