“The Department of Justice is working towards a future in which all the doors are open - to equality of opportunity, to independent living, to integration and to economic self-sufficiency - for everyone, including people with disabilities.” Eric Holder, Attorney General
People with disabilities have long faced barriers to full participation in society. For the past 24 years, the Civil Rights Division has made protecting the rights of people with disabilities a top priority by enforcing the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in more than seven million places of public accommodation nationwide, and all operations of more than 90,000 units of state and local governments. Our aggressive enforcement of the ADA touches the lives of people with disabilities and their families in many ways.
Today, in honor of the 24th anniversary of the ADA, we highlight some of the ways the division is ensuring that technology improves access instead of creating new barriers for individuals living with disabilities.
The explosion of new technology has dramatically changed the way America communicates, learns and does business. For many people with disabilities, however, the benefits of this technology revolution remain beyond their reach. Websites for many businesses and government entities remain inaccessible to people with vision or hearing disabilities. Fortunately, websites and digital technologies can be made accessible, much like adding ramps to building entrances. Electronic documents, websites, and other electronic information can be accessible to blind people and other people with disabilities through common computer technology. Examples include “screen reader” programs which read electronic documents aloud, refreshable Braille displays, and keyboard navigation and captioning. The Civil Rights Division is working to ensure that people with disabilities are not left behind as new technology continues to emerge.
Last week, the Justice Department announced that it reached a settlement with the Orange County Clerk of Courts in Florida to remedy violations of the ADA involving accessible technology. The settlement resolves allegations that the Clerk of Courts failed to provide an attorney who is blind with electronic court documents in an accessible format readable by his screen reader technology.
Under the ADA, state and local courts must make their programs, services, and activities accessible to qualified individuals with disabilities. The official court record is a program, service, and activity of the court and, therefore, needs to be made accessible.
Under the settlement agreement, the Clerk of Courts will provide individuals with disabilities with any document in the official court record in an accessible format upon request. The settlement agreement also ensures that the Clerk of Courts’ website is accessible in accordance with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 Level AA (http://www.w3.org/TR/WCAG20/). Further, the Clerk of Courts will pay $10,000 in damages and receive training on the ADA and WCAG 2.0 AA requirements.
Another recent consent decree resolving allegations by the Department of Justice relating to accessible technology involves H&R Block’s website and mobile applications.
As one of the largest tax return preparers in the country, H&R Block offers many services through its website (www.hrblock.com) and its mobile apps, including tax preparation, instructional videos, office location information, live video conference/chat with tax professionals, online and in-store services and electronic tax-return filing.
Last December, the Justice Department intervened in the lawsuit National Federal of the Blind et al. v. HRB Digital LLC et al. to enforce Title III of the ADA. The department’s complaint alleged that H&R Block failed to make its website accessible to individuals who have vision, hearing and other disabilities.
Under the terms of the five-year consent decree negotiated by the parties, H&R Block’s website, tax filing utility and mobile apps will conform to WCAG 2.0 Level AA and the website will be accessible for the next tax filing season on Jan. 1, 2015. And in addition to paying $45,000 to the two individual plaintiffs and a $55,000 civil penalty, H&R Block will: appoint a skilled web accessibility coordinator; initiate training on accessible design for its web content personnel; evaluate employee and contractor performance based on successful web access; and hire an outside consultant to prepare annual independent evaluations of H&R Block’s online accessibility.
As Carmen Ortiz, the U.S. Attorney for the District of Massachusetts and a partner on this consent decree, explained, “For those with disabilities, an inaccessible website puts them at a great disadvantage and further perpetuates a feeling of dependence and reliance on others. With thoughtful and proper web design, businesses and organizations can have a great impact on the daily lives of people with disabilities who, like everyone else, seek to enjoy the benefits of technology.”