other accessibility cases
page looks at some overseas online accessibility cases.
It covers -
NFB v AOL, Ramada and other US cases
During October 2000 a provision of the Workforce Investment
Act 1998 mandated use of the W3C accessibility standards
by US federal government agencies. In July 2001 the National
Federation for the Blind (NFB)
- the largest US consumer advocacy group for the visually
disabled - claimed victory in a dispute with AOL, the
largest US internet service provider.
The NFB announced that it had withdrawn litigation under
the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). AOL
to recognise the needs of the disabled. In particular,
it will ensure its next generation of software is compatible
with screen reader technology.
The litigation commenced in 1998. The NFB argued
that AOL, like many ISPs, had breached the anti-discrimination
legislation by failing to provide appropriate access for
the blind. AOL services were not compatible with devices
that translate on-screen text into sound.
AOL marked the agreement by publishing an accessibility
policy statement (better late than never) on its corporate
site. The change is flowing through to other ISPs.
The outcomes of litigation in the US have been mixed.
In 2002 a US Federal District Court in Georgia held in
Martin v. Metropolitan Atlanta Transportation Authority
that an agency had violated regulations under the ADA
because its "web page was not formatted in such a
way that it can be read by persons who are blind"
using screen reader software.
However, in the same year a US Federal District Court
in Florida dismissed action by advocacy group Access Now,
finding that the Southwest Airlines web site was not a
"place of public accommodation" in relation
to the ADA. The decision was subsequently upheld
on procedural grounds by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals.
Access Now had sued the airline under the ADA, claiming
that the web site was incompatible with screen-reading
The judge refused to expand the ADA's definition of "public
accommodation" beyond physical facilities - ramps
are appropriate outside offices but not, it seems, in
cyberspace - and instead suggested changes to the legislation.
That did not deter the New York State Attorney-General,
who in 2004 announced
that hotel operator Ramada and travel company Priceline
had agreed to make changes to enable users of assistive
technology such as screen readers to more easily navigate
their web sites. He had argued that the companies were
in violation of the ADA. The companies agreed to undertake
remedial action and pay up to US$40,000 to cover the costs
of the investigation.
2006 the US District Court for the Northern District of
California in National Federation of the Blind v.
Target Corporation considered a lawsuit brought against
retailer Target by the NFB advocacy group over alleged
breach of the ADA, the Californian Unruh Civil Rights
Act and California Disabled Persons Act.
The NFB argued that the retailer's site (Target.com) was
inaccessible to the blind and accordingly sought declaratory,
injunctive, and monetary relief. That argument centred
on the claim that the site allows customers to perform
functions related to Target stores: because the site is
not fully accessible, those customers are denied full
and equal access and enjoyment of the stores.
Target responded that the ADA only prohibits discrimination
in physical spaces, that any online discrimination must
deny access to a physical space and that the site provides
"auxiliary aid" that conforms to ADA requirements.
In September 2006 Judge Patel ruled that a retailer may
be sued if its site is inaccessible, noting that the ADA
prohibits discrimination in "enjoyment of goods,
services, facilities or privileges". In October 2007
Judge Patel granted class-action status to the lawsuit.
In August 2008 as part of a class action settlement Target
agreed to pay US$6 million in damages to plaintiffs in
California. The settlement requires Target to implement
internal guidelines to make its site more accessible to
the blind by 28 February 2009, with assistance from the
One point of entry to literature about ADA litigation
is the 2004 When the Americans with Disabilities Act
Goes Online: Application of the ADA to the Internet and
the World Wide Web (PDF)
by Steven Mendelsohn & Martin Gould.
A perspective on governments putting their money where
their mouth is came in the May 2008 decision by a US federal
appeals court upholding the 2006 ruling that US paper
money discriminates against the blind, with the judges
finding that the design of the currency (unlike that in
Australia) denies blind people "meaningful access"
and rejecting the argument that making "facially
reasonable accommodations that are feasible and efficacious"
would involve an undue burden on the government.
The ruling - in American Council of the Blind et al
v Henry M Paulson Jr Secretary of the Treasury (Decided
20 May 20 2008, No. 07-5063 in the District of Columbia)
- provoked strong disagreement among advocacy groups,
with endorsement by the American Foundation for the Blind
and the American Council of the Blind but denunciation
by the National Federation of the Blind as "profoundly
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