Does the Americans with Disabilities Act Affect Your Website?

Back in September, we talked about Section 508 of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Those who regularly work with federal agency web content know how Section 508 can spread fear through the management of any project. For those who aren’t as familiar, Section 508 requires the information on a website to be accessible to visitors with certain disabilities, most notably vision impaired visitors using text readers.

At the time, we said that the requirements primarily applied to federal websites, but that many contractors and groups who work with these agencies should probably try to meet them.

The rules may be changing, though. The Justice Department has joined a suit against H&R Block. The H&R Block website provides tax advice and information, and is not compliant with standards for Section 508. But until recently, was not clear they would be required to.

The Justice Department theory is that:

websites are public accommodations and owners must take the necessary steps to ensure individuals with disabilities are not excluded or “treated differently because of the absence of auxiliary aids and services” including the “accurate captioning of audible materials and labeling of visual materials.”

What isn’t clear is whether they are claiming that H&R Block is a public accommodation because it is a large public website, or because it specifically serves up information that is related to the federal government.

We will be watching to see how this case comes out, of course. How broadly this theory might be applied in the future is open to question, but large websites that might be described similarly as a public accommodation should be aware of the potential new requirements.

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