A momentous shift is underway in the U.S. Increasingly, website accessibility is seen as subject to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). (WARNING — acronym storm alert.)
Title III of the ADA prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability by "public accommodations." These include restaurants, retail stores, movie theatres, recreational facilities and other physical spaces.
The Internet didn't exist when the ADA was drawn up, hence some strenuous contests of interpretation in courts of law. When the Internet is — inevitably — deemed to be a public accommodation by a federal judge, everything changes.
Advocates including the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) and the National Association for the Deaf (NAD) have put pressure on companies to give their websites the online equivalent of clear signs and wheelchair access. Most cases have been settled out of court, but Target and Netflix were taken to court and lost when federal judges ruled that the ADA covered their websites.
Peapod, an online grocery store, has now entered into an agreement with the Department of Justice to make its sites fully accessible.
What? What! What??? Why? But — an online grocery store?
Until now, only government websites have been required to follow web accessibility standards. Very soon, formal web standards will apply to commercial sites.
"It's not a matter of if, but when," writes Jim Butler on HotelLawBlog.com.
Commercial organisations may be quicker to see the advantages of web accessibility than government agencies. They expect profit to outweigh development costs. The incentives for government agencies are not in dollars but in better service and customer satisfaction.