If you follow our blog, you know that, even though the Department of Justice has issued no formal regulations yet setting a web accessibility standard, private plaintiffs, the DOJ, and advocacy groups have become increasingly active in pursuing legal action on the position that the ADA and Rehabilitation Act require accessible websites.  As an example, the DOJ recently filed an enforcement lawsuit against a large online tax preparation service alleging that the service’s website is inaccessible and then entered into a consent decree with the service that requires compliance with a set of stringent, privately developed website accessibility guidelines that no federal agency, including DOJ, has adopted for itself.  It would appear that disability rights groups are not going to tolerate this double standard.

Yesterday, the American Council of the Blind and three individuals filed suit in the US District Court for the District of Columbia against the United States General Services Administration, alleging GSA’s own website, SAM.gov, is inaccessible and does not comply with Section 504, leaving certain blind and visually impaired government contractors unable to register or timely renew their government contracts.  The Complaint even quotes the DOJ: “As the Department of Justice has recently noted, “an inaccessible website puts [persons with disabilities] at a great disadvantage and further perpetuates a feeling of dependence and reliance on others.”  The Complaint further notes that the GSA – which requires federal contractors provide blind and visually impaired users equal access to contractors’ websites in compliance with Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act – should be required to abide by the same rule in ensuring access to SAM.gov.

The Complaint cites in detail some of the alleged barriers to access on SAM.gov, generally summarized as “a number of features on SAM.gov that are not “viewable” by a talking screen reader of the sort that millions of blind and visually impaired individuals rely on to navigate the Internet, ensuring that SAM.gov contains keyboard recognizable codes, and providing “helpdesk” assistance that is sensitive and responsive to the needs and concerns of blind and visually impaired contractors.”  As a result, blind and visually impaired federal contractors allegedly must divulge sensitive, personal information, such as their usernames, passwords, and social security numbers to third parties so that the third parties could enter the individuals’ information into SAM.gov. The Complaint further alleges that SAM.gov’s helpdesk and technical assistance staff are not equipped to effectively assist blind and visually impaired users.

We’ll follow this litigation as it unfolds.