Oct. 8, 2002 --
Web access being what it is -- or isn't -- it is not surprising that increasing numbers of lawsuits have been filed over the lack of website access.
When Robert Gumson, who is blind, logged on to Southwest Airlines' Web site to make a reservation and found the site inaccessible via his screen-reader browser, he sued the company under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Gumson's suit is joined by Access Now, a disability rights group in Florida. The group has filed a number of other web access suits in recent months.
The airline has moved to dismiss the suit, on the grounds that the Title III of the ADA was meant to apply to brick-and-mortar facilities rather than Web sites. Many believe that this case, or one like it, will eventually end up before the U.S. Supreme Court.
There have been other lawsuits over web access -- the National Federation of the Blind sued AOL a few years ago -- but this and other suits have been settled, with no court ruling. An assistant attorney general's letter in the mid 1990s is one of the few documents from the Department of Justice on the matter; the letter noted that "entities that use the Internet for communications regarding their programs, goods, or services must be prepared to offer those communications through accessible means as well." ) To read about Gumson's suit, go to http://www.law.com/jsp/printerfriendly.jsp?c=LawArticle&t=PrinterFriendlyArticle&cid=1032128683422)
Last year at this time, usability expert Jakob Nielsen of the Nielsen Norman Group reported that web usability was three to six times better for non-disabled people than for people with low vision, no vision or motor impairment. (see our E-Letter on this study at http://www.accessiblesociety.org/e_letters/eletter103001.htm). At that time, Nielsen's group had research subjects try buying Janet Jackson's CD "All for You" from Target's website; find a bus departing O'Hare airport to a specific address in Chicago using the Transit Chicago website and find the best mutual fund satisfying certain criteria on Schwab's website. People using screen readers or screen magnification programs could not complete these tasks three-fourths of the time due to the websites' inaccessibility.
Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act requires that electronic and information technology developed, procured, maintained, or used by the Federal government be accessible; the rules on this took effect over a year ago (see http://www.accessiblesociety.org/topics/webaccess/sect508.htm)
Earlier this month. Calif. Gov. Gray Davis signed legislation requiring that websites, computers, cell phones and other electronic devices created or used by the state government be accessible to people with disabilities. SB 105 also establishes the Division of Services for the Blind and Visually Impaired and Deaf and Hard of Hearing (Division) within the Department of Rehabilitation (Read more at http://www.usbln.com/news/gen_news_09292002.html).