Late last year, DOJ moved to intervene in a class action suit brought by the National Federation of the Blind on behalf of two of its members and itself against HRB Digital LLC and HRB Tax Group, Inc. in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts. The plaintiffs had alleged that the defendants' website contains barriers that prevent full and equal use by blind persons, in violation of Title III of the ADA and Article 114 of the Massachusetts Constitution, as enforced through the Massachusetts Equal Rights Act.
In its motion to intervene, DOJ noted that the United States had a significant interest in this lawsuit as DOJ anticipated that the lawsuit "will help define the application of the ADA to public accommodations' websites, an area in which few courts have thus far opined." According to its Complaint in Intervention, the inaccessibility of the H&R Block website prevents people with disabilities from, among other things, independently preparing and filing taxes online, downloading tax preparation software, finding tax professionals, obtaining information from the website's blog, and obtaining information from instructional videos. In December 2013, the court granted the United States' motion to intervene.
On March 6, 2014, the parties filed a Joint Motion for Entry of Consent Decree indicating that they had resolved all issues in this litigation by consent decree. The Consent Decree requires the defendants to take a number of steps, including, but not limited to:
- Meeting deadlines by which the defendants must make the website, an online tax preparation tool, mobile applications, and third-party plug ins and content conform to, at a minimum, the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 Level A and AA Success Criteria (WCAG 2.0 AA).
- Designating a Website Accessibility Coordinator who is knowledgeable about the Consent Decree, WCAG 2.0, and web accessibility generally.
- Adopting and implementing a Web Accessibility Policy that is approved by the private plaintiffs and the United States.
- Appointing a Web Accessibility Committee charged with monitoring and maintaining conformance of the website, mobile applications and the online tax preparation tool with WCAG 2.0 AA.
- Soliciting feedback from visitors to the website on how the accessibility of the website, the online tax preparation tool, and mobile applications can be improved.
- Providing mandatory web accessibility training to all employees who write or develop programs or code for, or who publish content to, the website, the online tax preparation tool, or mobile applications.
- Modifying bug fix policies, practices, and procedures to include elimination of bugs that create nonconformance with WCAG 2.0 AA.
The Consent Decree provides a good roadmap of steps that DOJ expects companies to be taking to ensure the accessibility of their websites and mobile applications. Given that the release of proposed regulations regarding the accessibility of public accommodations' websites has been delayed (as discussed below), consent decrees such as this one may provide the best source of information about how DOJ expects companies to satisfy Title III of the ADA.