Website Operators: Be Aware of Efforts to Expand Legal Requirements Through Compliance Reviews, Litigation and Settlement Agreements

HIGHLIGHTS:

  • The DOJ has announced a compliance review and subsequent settlement agreement with two companies regarding removal of purported barriers to the accessibility of their websites.
  • The settlement demonstrates that enforcement of website accessibility will continue as a growing trend even before the government issues the anticipated regulations to address website accessibility.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) has announced a compliance review and subsequent settlement agreement with Ahold U.S.A. Inc. and Peapod, LLC – the owner and operator of peapod.com, an online grocery shopping website. The settlement requires the companies to remove purported barriers to the accessibility of their website using non-mandatory guidance established by an international website standards organization as the barometer for compliance. In doing so, the settlement demonstrates that enforcement of website accessibility will continue as a growing trend even before the government issues the anticipated regulations to address website accessibility.

DOJ Identifies Specific Accessibility Barriers

Ahold and Peapod had been using a screen reader accessible version of their website and had been providing technical assistance to customers with disabilities who have difficulty using their website (including telephonic ordering with no additional delays in delivery or charges), but DOJ did not consider those accommodations to be satisfactory.

DOJ asserted the following accessibility barriers on the peapod.com website:

  • images, buttons and form fields are unlabeled or have inaccurate alternative text
  • pop-up modal windows are not reported to screen readers
  • frames are not named or identified
  • tables are missing header information and proper mark-ups
  • boldface type is used to show which fields are required
  • captioning on the website is inaccurate
  • Java script used throughout the website is not available to users who cannot use a mouse

Settlement Agreement Terms

In entering into the settlement agreement with DOJ, Ahold and Peapod agreed to:

  • ensure that their website and mobile applications comply with voluntary guidelines established by an international website standards organization
  • try to require that vendors of third-party content also comply with these voluntary guidelines
  • designate a website accessibility coordinator
  • establish a website and mobile application accessibility policy
  • solicit feedback on the accessibility of their website and mobile applications
  • prioritize the elimination of bugs that create accessibility barriers to peapod.com
  • conduct automated accessibility testing of the website and mobile applications
  • retain a website accessibility consultant
  • establish a user accessibility testing group to conduct annual tests
  • provide annual trainings on website accessibility
  • submit annual reports to the DOJ detailing their compliance with the settlement agreement

Although many courts have been skeptical about website accessibility claims (especially where the websites are not connected or related to any physical location), website operators should be aware of aggressive efforts to expand legal requirements through similar compliance reviews, litigation and settlement agreements.