Senators Urge DOJ to Weigh in On ADA Impact on Websites

September 16, 2018

A pair of U.S. senators from Iowa say it’s unclear whether the landmark Americans with Disabilities Act transcends the physical world into the cyber realm.

Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst, both Republicans, have asked U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions to explore whether the 1990 law applies to website accessibility as well.

“For nearly 30 years, the ADA has protected countless individuals with disabilities, ensuring physical access to ‘any place of public accommodation,'” the senators wrote in a letter, co-authored by lawmakers from North Carolina, South Dakota, Idaho and Texas. “We support the ADA and all that it stands for.

“But for the ADA to be effective, it must be clear so that law-abiding Americans can faithfully follow the law. Right now, it is not clear whether the ADA applies to websites.”

The senators said more than 800 ADA website accessibility lawsuits were filed in 2017. The number of lawsuits filed so far in 2018 have already surpassed that mark.

The suits allege the websites aren’t usable by people with disabilities. For example, people with visual impairments use screen-reading software that can be thwarted by inhospitable design.

In 2010, the U.S. Department of Justice issued a notice that rules about website accessibility standards were pending. However, that notice was withdrawn in 2017, with department officials noting that they were “evaluating whether promulgating regulations about the accessibility of web information and services is necessary and appropriate.”

The senators wrote that they “appreciate the department’s careful scrutiny of this complicated matter.”

“At this time, however, the lack of regulatory clarity benefits only the plaintiffs’ lawyers,” they wrote. “Clarity in the law will encourage private investment in technology and other measures that will improve conditions for the disabled.”

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