Section 508 Lawsuits
Over the last couple of years more attention was brought to Section 508 lawsuits. It is due to the fact that people started taking advantage of their rights, namely, that electronic information should be accessible to them despite of their disabilities. There are many more organizations which could theoretically be threatened by a Section 508 lawsuit, and it is highly probable that in the future it will be more difficult to get away with non-compliance. It is almost a pattern that the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) is part of these Section 508 lawsuits. One of the reasons is that as an organization, they support the complaints of an individual, as an organization. Also, this sends a message to agencies which choose not to comply, namely that there is an organization which will help enforcing Section 508, even if on a case by case basis.
Here, we’ll take a look at the major Section 508 lawsuits filed against agencies and businesses regarding their web sites. Our main goal is to learn from these events so we could avoid facing the same legal problems they have encountered.
Small Business Administration
On July 22, 2009, the Small Business Administration (SBA) received an administrative complaint regarding its web site. This complaint was filed by the National Federation of the Blind and Virgil Stinnett, a blind business owner from Honolulu, Hawaii.
According to NFB and Stinnett, SBA’s site violates Section 508 as it is inaccessible to blind people who use assistive devices and software. The site’s main accessibility issue was that blind people cannot fill out its online forms or access its online courses.
Stinnett added that he was unable to apply for certification under Section 8(a) of the Small Business Act. This certification provides businesses with access to federal and private procurement markets.
Social Security Administration
The Social Security Administration (SSA) received a lawsuit on August 24, 2009 regarding its web site. This lawsuit was filed by the National Federation of the Blind and Margot Downey, a blind Social Security beneficiary from Buffalo, New York.
NFB and Downey claim that the web site violates Section 508. The site’s inaccessibility, in particular, prevents blind people from filling out necessary forms and questionnaires on the site. It is also very difficult for blind people to access information about their benefits on the SSA site.
US Department of Education
On October 27, 2009, the National Federation of the blind and Carlos Mora, a blind resident of Baltimore, filed an administrative complaint with the US Department of Education.
The plaintiffs assert that one of the department’s websites, U.S.A. Learns, violates Section 508 because it is inaccessible to blind Internet users. Mora claims that he cannot access or navigate through the content of the English vocabulary, spelling, and pronunciation lessons offered through the site.
The Target lawsuit is arguably one of the most well known cases centered on web accessibility. I decided to include this lawsuit in the list although it violated the ADA, the California Unruh Civil Rights Act and the California Disabled Persons Act. This is because these laws are closely related to Section 508, and this specific lawsuit had a significant impact on web accessibility in general. The Target case was concluded with a settlement. However, it is noteworthy that similarly NFB was involved with this case.
On February 7, 2006, Target Corporation received a lawsuit concerning the inaccessibility of its web site. This lawsuit was filed by the National Federation of the Blind (NFB), NFB of California, and Bruce Sexton, a blind college student.
NFB and Sexton claim that Target.com violated the ADA because blind users cannot browse among products and purchase the item they want. Blind users also can’t access information such as employment opportunities, investor news, and company policies. In addition, Target’s site does not contain alt text for images and requires the use of a mouse in completing transactions.
NFB and Target settled the lawsuit on August 27, 2008. Since then, Target has made efforts to make its site accessible to people who use assistive technologies.
Even Grounds will monitor Section 508 lawsuits in the future, and this article will be updated as needed.