Legislation was introduced in the House of Representatives to try to alleviate the lack of clarity concerning how companies are supposed to make websites accessible to vision impaired individuals. There is currently no law or regulations under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) directly addressing technical or legal standards for website accessibility.
The Online Accessibility Act, introduced on October 2, 2020, intends to remedy many of these issues and concerns by creating a new Title VI for the ADA devoted entirely to consumer facing websites and mobile applications. The Act requires “substantial” compliance with WCAG 2.0 A, AA, an exhaustion of administrative remedies with the Department of Justice, and that plaintiffs plead “with particularity each element of the plaintiff’s claim, including the specific barriers to access.”
Each of these additional components is important as they narrow the claims that can be brought by plaintiffs, create a framework and standard by which website accessibility claims are evaluated, and most importantly, put the onus on the plaintiff to identify the specific links and precise areas of the web page that are inaccessible. This in turn makes it easier for a website to be remediated and makes it easier for the court to determine if there is a violation.
While the legislation, as currently written, does not define how “substantial compliance” is interpreted, at a minimum it will not require complete compliance, and may also consider the crux of accessibility laws (whether the plaintiff has meaningful access to the website). This is important because meaningful access considers whether the non-compliant pieces of a consumer-facing website actually affect a consumer or plaintiff’s ability to use the website – further minimizing the number of frivolous and predatory lawsuits filed regarding website accessibility violations.
While the Online Accessibility Act is not law yet, it is taking necessary steps towards refining website accessibility laws by attempting to tailor the requirements of such laws to the actual needs of vision impaired users of websites, while simultaneously tempering serial plaintiffs and their attorneys from filing a glut of lawsuits with vague allegations without the U.S. Department of Justice oversight.