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Big Companies Are Losing Millions in Digital Discrimination Lawsuits

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A legally blind man recently sued the NBA claiming their website failed to accommodate those who are visually impaired. A couple of months before that, a similar issue was brought up to Carnival Corporation, where people claimed that the cruise operator didn’t have enough seats or cabins at their entertainment and dining venues for the disabled. The company also lacked a usable website and app. The company had no choice but to fork up just over $400,000 in damages and penalties in regards to their website and mobile apps.

A 2011 survey conducted by Pew Research Center found that about five million adults in the US suffer from some form of illness or disability that makes it hard or downright impossible to go online. It is a number that is steadily rising and is proving to be costly for companies. The US Department of Justice states that the Americans with Disabilities Act has sued and settled millions with big names like Disney and Netflix because they didn’t design a layout for consumers with disabilities. An act was passed in 1990 on the types of requirements for public places. The internet was excluded because it was still relatively new back then.

Currently, the Department of Justice is working on release new regulations to be in effect for 2018. Potential layout rules for websites will be enhanced speech recognition, accurate auto-translation, zooming, and better search engine optimization. Video captioning and text transcripts are a must for those that are deaf although 80% of TV viewers use it. There is a range of disabilities beyond speech, hearing, cognition, and neurological complications. Millions also suffer from carpel tunnel syndrome, gamers’ thumb, and tendonitis or chronic illnesses like cancer, multiple sclerosis, and cystic fibrosis. These diseases can affect cognition, physical capability, and memory making it a task to do even the simplest of things online. Sadly, the number of people with these disabilities are projected to double by 2050. As the numbers climb, it is transparent that the issues are much broader than most people — who do not suffer from or understand it — can imagine.

Any business today that fail to incorporate accessibility while surfing their website face a big possibility of reduced profit, an injured reputation, and a loss of consumers. H&R Block learned the risks of digital discrimination the hard way when the National Federation of the Blind filed a lawsuit stating they did not create an accessible site for those with disabilities. The Department of Justice interceded to enforce the Americans with Disabilities Act, making an agreement for the company to cough up $100,000 in damages as well as adopting measures that ensured full and equal access.

Last year, the Department of Justice accused Peapod, one of the biggest online grocers in the US, of discriminating against people with disabilities because they didn’t offer adequate options for those with limited manual dexterity, vision loss and hearing loss to navigate the site easier. As a settlement, Peapod agreed to make their site and apps completely assessable so technologies like Braille and programs that can convert text to speech are incorporated throughout their company. They also agreed that they would have an independent web accessibility consultant, create a formal web policy for accessibility and have regular accessibility testing by the people who can help them with it best: those with disabilities.

The World Wide Web Consortium, created the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines that focuses on creating web content that is highly accessible to those with disabilities. As of now, the Department of Justice uses these guidelines as a blueprint for any of their investigations such as the time they used it against Carnival Cruise Line.

These guidelines have a large impact on the world. For example, the United Kingdom is using these guidelines to measure adherence to the 2010 Equality Act. Other than being a weapon of enforcement, the Web Content Accessibility Guideline can help create more regulations. It could help businesses find out how to shield themselves from similar lawsuits in the future. It could also give web developers consider goals and concrete tools when they are building content for a business. Once they have accessibility in mind when they are constructing these sites, it will benefit many people.

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