ADA Round-Up: Proposed DOJ Website Accessibility Rules Gain Support

Oct 30 2023 VITAC
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Welcome to the latest edition of “ADA in the News,” featuring recent updates and rulings regarding the Americans with Disabilities Act.

AG Support for Updated ADA Rules

A coalition of 11 state attorneys general earlier this month submitted comments to the U.S. Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Civil Rights Division in support of its proposed revisions to Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The proposed revisions would establish accessibility requirements for state and local government websites and mobile apps.

The DOJ in July proposed its first-ever rules to establish accessibility standards for state and local government websites and mobile app-based services. The proposal, the DOJ said, would create clearer standards for state and local governments to follow in providing equal access to online services, programs, and activities for people with disabilities, as required under the Americans with Disabilities Act. It contains technical standards to ensure ADA compliance, including, among other things, alt-text descriptions of images so people using screen readers can understand the image’s content, captions on videos, the ability to resize onscreen text, and navigation via keyboard rather than mouse for those with limited mobility.

The AGs praised the DOJ proposal for striking the right balance between accessibility and feasibility, and offered several additional recommendations, including the adoption of a consistent standard across all public entities regardless of size, a consistent standard regardless of whether the content was created before or after the final rule takes effect, and reasonable exceptions for certain materials, such as archived content.

“The Americans with Disabilities Act has been an essential tool for safeguarding the civil rights of people with disabilities since 1990, and it’s important that the protections set forth in this landmark law keep up with the times,” said California Attorney General Rob Bonta. “In this digital age, as our lives move increasingly online, public agencies must ensure they are meeting people where they are.”

The ADA is designed to ensure individuals with disabilities have equal access to all aspects of society and to prohibit discrimination against them through strong, consistent, and enforceable standards. Title II of the ADA applies to all public entities, including state and local governments as well as departments, agencies, special purpose districts, and special district governments.

Examples of these include:

  • State and local government offices that provide benefits and/or social services, like food assistance, health insurance, or employment services
  • Public schools, community colleges, and public universities
  • State and local police departments
  • State and local courts
  • State and local elections offices
  • Public hospitals and public healthcare clinics
  • Public parks and recreation programs
  • Public libraries
  • Public transit agencies

The comment period for the proposed rule ended in early October. Final regulations could be issued within 3 to 6 months.

Court Rules on Inaccessible Touch Screens

A federal court in California found clinical lab Quest Diagnostics violated the Americans with Disabilities Act for failing to provide equal access to some of its services.

According to suit, Quest Diagnostics in 2016 began installing self-service kiosks at its patient service centers, enabling patients to, among other things, check-in for an appointment, edit personal information, and request help via an on-screen help button. Following concerns that the kiosks prevented people who are blind or with low vision from accessing their services, the American Council of the Blind (ACB) joined a civil rights complaint alleging that the kiosks deprived members of the blind community full and equal access to Quest’s services and failed to provide effective communication.

The court ruled in favor of ACB and a nationwide class of blind and low vision patients, finding that Quest violated Title III of the ADA in that it failed to provide people who are blind with equal access to Quest’s services and facilities.

“Self-service kiosks are being used more and more in many aspects of daily public life,” said Dan Spoone, Executive Director for the American Council of the Blind. “The Court’s decision that Quest violated the ADA and that the check-in services of these kiosks must be accessible to people who are blind is a significant step towards ensuring that the rights to full and equal enjoyment and effective communication are protected.”

UPS Facing Disability Discrimination Suit

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) filed suit against United Parcel Service (UPS) claiming that the shipping and receiving company violated the Americans with Disabilities Act. The suit says that UPS refused to hire or provide reasonable accommodations to individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing for driver positions on vehicles weighing more than 10,000 pounds, even though the Department of Transportation had authorized the practice.

According to the EEOC’s suit, UPS policy sets an illegal qualification standard that screens out individuals with a disability. The policy, the suit claims, has resulted in individuals being denied driver positions even though they could have completed training and performed the jobs with reasonable accommodations.

The transportation department gave its OK for individuals who are deaf or hard-of-hearing to drive trucks over 10,000 pounds through a program exempting them from a hearing test and, instead, uses alternative criteria to ensure an equivalent level of driver safety.

EEOC Sues Cargo Handling Company

A discrimination suit alleges that a cargo logistics and handling company violated federal anti-discrimination law by refusing to hire a qualified applicant for a mail handler position at its Chicago facility because he was deaf.

According to a suit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), an individual who is deaf applied for a position with Alliance Ground International but was rejected based on the assumption that individuals who are deaf are incapable of working safely in a warehouse setting.

The lawsuit further alleges that Alliance Ground has a policy of denying employment to deaf individuals in any of its warehouses, and that it destroyed large numbers of job applications in violation of federal record-keeping laws.

Such alleged conduct violates Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which requires employers to engage with applicants to identify and provide reasonable accommodations and prohibits employers from discriminating against qualified applicants based on their disability.