Friday, March 22, 2013

ADA Disability Trolls Now Targeting Online Businesses For Judicial Terrorism, Demand Businesses Makes Their Websites More Accessible To Disabled

Having unfortunately experienced considerable success targeting brick-and-mortar businesses for judicial terrorism under the auspices of the Americans With Disabilities Act, disability trolls have now expanded their scrutiny to include online businesses. They're interpreting the ADA to cover online businesses, and are demanding that businesses make their websites more "accessible" to the disabled. Courts have sent mixed signals about the ADA's applicability to online businesses, and retrofitting websites could cost businesses as much as 10 percent of their total website costs.

The full story was published by the Wall Street Journal on March 21st, 2013. Advocates for disabled Americans have decided that the ADA imposes upon privately-owned companies a legal obligation to make their websites as accessible as their stores, and they've filed suits across the country to force them to install digital versions of wheelchair ramps and self-opening doors. Primary players include the National Federation of the Blind and the National Association of the Deaf, and they already forced major companies like Target and Netflix into extortionate settlements after federal judges rejected arguments that their websites were beyond the scope of the ADA. Target was forced to establish a $6 million fund for settlement claims and agreed to modify its website to meet accessibility guidelines, while Netflix agreed to make 100 percent of its content closed-captioned by 2014. In the Netflix case, U.S. Federal Judge Michael Ponsor simply decided to re-invent the ADA to his own liking; he preemptorily declared that the failure of the ADA to specify online businesses was irrelevant, opining that the legislative history of the ADA made it clear that Congress intended the law to adapt to technology. But although the ADA does not specify applicability to online websites, the U.S. Department of Justice is expected to issue new regulations on website accessibility later in 2013 that could increase the ADA's jurisdiction over websites; they've been contemplating this move since 2010.

Of course, the Wall Street Journal fails to explain how Netflix could possibly be relevant to the blind. LOL! One commenter to the story, Brian Dorcey, wrote "I just looked at and I don’t see any special tools for people with disabilities. Maybe they should get their own house in order before they force more regulations on business. Lead the way and show us all how it’s done".

Remedies and Costs: To comply, websites could be required to include spoken descriptions of photos and text boxes for the blind, as well as captions and transcriptions of multimedia features for the deaf, as well as the capacity to navigate without a mouse. Tim Springer, chief executive of SSB BART Group, said companies can expect to pay about 10 percent of their total website costs on retrofitting, although if they phase in accessibility as they naturally upgrade their website, they could get away with only one percent to three percent.

Reaction: Most of the reaction posted to the Wall Street Journal is hostile to expanding the ADA. Gary Jarell wrote about the complexity and the costs, stating "In order to make the web interface interactive to the blind, EVERY link on the page will need to have an voice overlay saying it is a link and where it is pointing to. Every picture will need to have a voice overlay saying it is a picture and a description of what is being displayed. Ant that is just to start. Then each of the sites will need to be compatible with all of the different pieces of software the disabled use. Each and everyone of these functions will require development, which equates to a cost. If there are licenses involved, then that adds to the cost. Of course you cannot just charge the disabled for these additional costs, so the price of the items being sold will go up for everyone". Absolutely. The costs will passed on to ALL of the public. And Charlene Larson writes, "The blind and deaf are a tiny portion of the population. Tiny. The costs to placate them will be enormous. A site like Amazon has over a billion (yes, with a B) catalog pages. Updating them all will take years and cost hundreds of millions of dollars, thus raising prices for everyone".

Respondents on the F2 Anonboard also are mostly in opposition. Here's the comment I posted:

It should be VOLUNTARY. Use natural market forces. Instead of coercing all businesses through the court system, encourage businesses to comply voluntarily and direct the patronage of disabled folks towards the more disabled-friendly sites as a REWARD for voluntary compliance.

If businesses find they can make more profits by catering to cripples, they'll start doing so voluntarily. STOP USING COERCION!!! Use the carrot and the stick; the carrot should be the default weapon, while the stick should be by exception only in order to preserve its shock value.

There's the point. We're not talking about government websites, which ought to be disabled-friendly. We're talking about private business websites, which are optional to people. Why not trust the free market on this issue? Websites that voluntarily maximize accessibility can get rewarded by increased traffic and profits. Use the profit motive. Forcing the issue will merely increase the burning hatred many feel towards the federal government already.

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