What the “ADA Education and Reform Act” (HR 620) Means For Website Accessibility
When we speak to clients about the benefits of making sure their website meets Digital ADA Compliance standards, one of the main points we focus on is protection from accessibility lawsuits.
In 2017 alone, there were at least 814 federal lawsuits filed about inaccessible websites. This is an increase of over 1600% since 2015! This increase in lawsuits is one of the stated reasons why the US House of Representatives recently passed a bill titled the “ADA Education and Reform Act”, or HR 620. This bill does not exclusively focus on website accessibility. Rather, it covers all kinds of ADA complaints, which will include websites.
A Look at HR 620
Proponents of HR 620 state that the bill will help cut down on lawsuits by giving companies time to resolve issues. If someone discovers a violation, whether it is on a website or a physical location, they will need to send a notice to the company before filing any kind of lawsuit. That notice must include:
- The alleged barriers in the facility (or on the website), including the section of the ADA that was violated
- The circumstances under which the individual was denied access
- Whether a request for assistance was made
The company in question then has 60 days to respond to this notice. Their response should include a description of what changes are being made to resolve the issue. Note that the issue itself does not need to be resolved in this 60-day window (this is one of the concerns that critics of the bill have – a point which we will address shortly). The company simply has to reply to the notice with a plan for how they will correct the problem. If that response is not sent, a lawsuit can then be filled after the 60-day window.
Even if a business does respond, they could still be subject to a lawsuit if “substantial progress” on correcting the problem is not made within 120 days. Once again, the problem does not need to be resolved with this time, but the corrections need to be well underway.
Finally, HR 620 requires the US Department of Justice to develop a program to educate property owners, as well as state and local governments, about ADA requirements. Whether or not this means that the DOJ will finally create website accessibility guidelines or if they will simply refer to WCAG 2.0 was not stated in the bill, but most experts agree that the WCAG 2.0 guidelines will at least be the framework for any additional government guidelines that are created.
The Argument Against HR 620
While supporters of HR 620 say that the bill will protect companies from having to respond to lawsuits without first being given a chance to correct accessibility issues, critics suggest that it will have very different effects. They argue that without the threat of a lawsuit, companies will have little incentive to proactively make accessibility improvements. They will only do so once they have been sent a notice, and even then, it could take them months to make any actual changes. During this time, their facility (or website) will remain inaccessible. That is obviously a major concern which I hope is addressed in any ammendments to this bill.
It would be naïve to say that this bill won’t have the above stated effect on at least some companies, but my personal experiences gives me hope that this may be the exception to the rule. Personally, I have never met anyone who said that they didn’t care if their website was accessible or not. Most of the people I speak to about accessibility are surprised when they learn that their site may present barriers to certain users. When we explain what needs to be done to the sites in order to knock down those barriers, the clients I have engaged with have been eager to make these improvements. They’ve done this not because there is a lawsuit hanging over their heads, but because it is the right thing to do.
What This Means For Your Website
One thing to remember is that this bill has not been signed into law, meaning things could, and likely will, still change. That being said, if this bill does become law, it will mean that companies will at least be notified if their site presents a visitor with an accessibility challenge, instead of hearing about it through a lawsuit. They will then need to take whatever corrective actions are needed.
This does not mean you should forgo website accessibility, or any type of accessibilty, until you receive a notice. That is the exact scenario that this bill’s critics fear will happen. Remember, protection from accessibility lawsuits is only one of the benefits of having a site that meets Digital ADA standards. So realistically, this bill should not change the way you approach your site’s accessibility standing. We've said in the past that your site must be made accessible to all visitors and the introduction of this bill has not changed that at all.
If you do not know if your site is currently accessible, our team can audit your online presence as part of our RampUp Digital Compliance Assessment offering. Contact our team today to learn more about this assessment or with any questions you may have about HR 620 or other website accessibility concerns.