By: Laura O’Brien
Applying for college, or graduate school, is a stressful time for any individual. For individuals with disabilities it can be an even burdensome when university websites are not accessible to them. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a federal regulation that requires public entities be accessible to individuals with disabilities. However, even though the ADA was updated in 2008, it fails to mention an individual’s rights to web accessibility. As a result, there have been many lawsuits regarding accessibility to company’s websites. Without regulation in the ADA, the decision on how to regulate accessibility has been up to individual judges, resulting in a wide range of decisions and leaving widespread uncertainty for plaintiffs.
In 2016, the National Association of the Deaf brought suit against Harvard on behalf of a class of individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing. The individuals claimed they were not provided with equal access to Harvard’s website and denied equal enjoyment to the site. The class of individuals was not able to view online lectures or educational materials that had been posted. A failure to take steps to ensure that no individual with a disability is excluded or denied services is a violation of Title III of the ADA. The Court determined the type of auxiliary aid Harvard provides is up to Harvard, rather than the deaf and hard of hearing individuals. Though the type of auxiliary aid is at the website owner’s discretion, there is still a requirement that the owner put in place an auxiliary aid to make the website accessible to the deaf and hard of hearing individuals.
Recently, eight suits similar to the case above have been filed in federal court for Emanuel Delacruz, a blind individual. Mr. Delacruz claims that in his attempt to access eight college’s websites, none were accessible, and therefore, violated the ADA. Professor Arlene Kanter states that students increasing awareness with their right to access has recently increased, and will likely continue to increase the number of similar law suits. However, Mr. Gottlieb, a founder of the firm, Gottlieb and Associates, explained without appropriate government intervention and reform, the interest of those who need it most will not be advanced.
The results of Mr. Delacruz’s suits remain uncertain. Until the ADA is updated to include an individual’s rights to web accessibility, there are no regulations, causing a range of decisions in response to similar suits.
Nat’l Ass’n of the Deaf v. Harvard, 2016 WL 3561622, (Mass. 2016).
Vivian Wang, College Websites Must Accommodate Disabled Students, Lawsuits Say (Oct. 11, 2017), https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/11/nyregion/college-websites-disabled.html.
Americans with Disabilities Act 42 U.S.C. §12182(a).