Posts Tagged ‘web accessibility’

From mass copyright complaints to web accessibility: one lawyer’s journey

Fifteen years ago, I wrote the following, to considerable skepticism from some ADA advocates, about the idea that online publishers should be legally obliged to make their websites “accessible” to blind, deaf, and other disabled users:

If it’s easy for entrepreneurial litigators to stroll down the main street of a town and find stores vulnerable to an ADA suit because their water fountain or pay phone is at the wrong height, it’s even easier for them to surf the Web and find sites that flunk the most widely accepted disability guidelines. Assuming a court can be found with proper jurisdiction over them, the next logical step is the filing of accessibility complaints by the cartload.

Federal courts were cool toward the idea of obligatory web accessibility, but more recently it has been stirring back to life, in part owing to an Obama administration move to revitalize the idea. And while it’s taken me a while to catch up with the story, it appears that at least one practicing lawyer has indeed spotted a niche for the mass filing of ADA suits against small businesses over their online presence.

That lawyer is Minneapolis-based attorney Paul Hansmeier, who fittingly or otherwise was previously associated with the now-disgraced Prenda Law Group, which engaged in mass copyright complaint filing against computer users recorded as downloading certain X-rated materials. Mike Masnick at TechDirt followed the adventures of Hansmeier and his Class Justice in multiple web-accessibility filing in this 2013 post with sequel and even more entertaining followup (channeling Dan Nienaber, Mankato, Minn., Free Press). Now Tim Cushing at TechDirt reports that Hansmeier is running into a bit of resistance in the form of a counterclaim by one of his targets, Kahler Hotels.

Disabled rights roundup

  • Blockbuster “web accessibility” issue, with potential for massive disruption of online life, continues to drag on without action in Washington despite urgings from academics; but at Ninth Circuit’s behest, California Supreme Court will decide whether state’s Disabled Persons Act covers websites [David Ettinger, Horwitz & Levy] More: Amy Alkon and commenters;
  • Federal district judge (E.D.N.Y.), suspecting foul play in multiple ADA filings, sends staff to investigate, but that’s a no-no as the Second Circuit reminds him [Josh Blackman]
  • Noting “continuing paranoia and obsession,” Vermont Supreme Court rebuffs bar applicant claiming discrimination on basis of mental illness [ABA Journal]
  • Just fine and dander: optician’s shop in suburban Detroit turns down worker’s request to bring service dog for generalized anxiety disorder, will pay $53,000 in settlement [EEOC]
  • Attack on “sheltered workshops” fits into multi-front effort to extend reach of federal wage-hour law: “Landmark DOJ settlement with RI provides road map to disability-law compliance for 49 other states” [ABA Journal]
  • Coalition politics counts: prominent disabled-rights groups [AAPD, DREDF, Bazelon Center, etc.] favor driving up cost of at-home attendants at expense of their own putative constituents [Benjamin Sachs, On Labor, on Harris v. Quinn amicus]
  • “Alcoholism and the ADA: Not as clear-cut as you think” [Dan Wisniewski, HR Morning, on Crosby v. F.W. Webb Co.] “Playing golf and having sex are major life activities under the ADA” [Eric B. Meyer]

Pending ADA regulations menace Internet freedom

It’s potentially the biggest regulation in the federal pipeline that most people don’t know about — and it’s aimed straight at the freedom to publish of the Internet. I explain at Cato at Liberty. More: Coyote (“The implications could be staggering, and in certain scenarios would basically force me to certainly close down this site, and likely close down many of my business sites.”)

Disabled rights roundup

Free speech roundup

  • Alarms re: proposed new UK code to regulate press, both print and electronic [John O’Sullivan, Andrew Stuttaford] “Why we won’t sign the press-regulation Charter” [The Spectator: Nick Cohen]
  • Also from the UK: “Police investigate Conservative MP Tim Loughton for calling man ‘unkempt'” [Telegraph]
  • “Teenager arrested for tweeting rap lyric containing the word ‘homicide.'” [Ann Althouse]
  • “CNN Argues that Requiring Captioning of Web Videos Would Violate Free Speech” [Disability Law, Courthouse News; more on new web accessibility push]
  • Administrator at Yeshiva U. hires lawyer to get posts removed from prominent law blogs, Streisand Effect ensues [Scott Greenfield]
  • Philly Mayor Michael Nutter sends letter to city human relations commission demanding investigation of Philadelphia Magazine for publishing article he dislikes [Ken at Popehat, Hans Bader]

Settling disabled-rights complaint, Netflix agrees to 100% content captioning

Joe Mullin/Ars Technica and Prof. Bagenstos have details. Per the press release (PDF) of the jubilant plaintiffs:

Netflix has increased captioning for 90% of the hours viewed but is now committed to focusing on covering all titles by captioning 100% of all content by 2014. Captions can be displayed on a majority of the more than 1,000 devices on which the service is available.

Earlier here, here, here, and here.

Disabled rights roundup

  • Window office, transfer over more qualified candidates: “5 reasonable accommodations an employer never dreamed it would have to make” [Robin Shea]
  • Rep. Lungren [R-CA] introduces ADA notification bill [Elk Grove Citizen, House Judiciary hearing]
  • 2nd Circuit: NYC doesn’t have to make taxis disabled-accessible [NY Mag, NYDN, William Goren, earlier]
  • More on the Netflix captioning ruling from Julian Sanchez and Doug Mataconis [earlier]. “I am so sick and tired of hearing people like Olson … the Walter Olsons of the world” writes Ellen Seidman [Parents mag] Don’t let her hear what Eric Goldman said.
  • Report: 86 California Burger King outlets to pay $19 million to settle complaints on ADA accessibility [Sam Bagenstos]
  • Service animals on planes: when pigs fly [Amy Alkon via James Taranto] S.D. Fla.: “Fair Housing Act Requires Allowing Emotional Support Animals as a Reasonable Accommodation” [Bagenstos]
  • Cuttino Mobley loses doc-wouldn’t-let-me-play disability suit against New York Knicks [Alex Raskin,, earlier]

Eric Goldman on the Netflix decision

Following up on our Monday posts: in an Ars Technica column, prominent Internet-law expert blogger and lawprof Eric Goldman considers the Massachusetts’ federal judge’s ruling “a bad ruling. Really terrible.” And it’s at odds, he says, with a long series of earlier decisions that had rejected the idea of websites as a “public accommodation” for purposes of the ADA.

In response, lawprof and prominent ADA advocate Sam Bagenstos says precedent in the First Circuit (which covers Massachusetts) is relatively favorable to the public-accommodation theory. And, he says, the federal government’s lawyers have long been committed to the position that the Web is a public accommodation subject to the ADA — which falls into the ever-popular category of “reassurances that leave me less reassured than ever.”

Judge: Netflix can be sued for streaming uncaptioned films

As I note in a new Cato post, a judge ruled last week that Netflix is a “public accommodation” and can be sued for not offering closed captioning on all its streamed films for the convenience of deaf customers. (Earlier here.) If upheld, the ruling will apply not just to Netflix itself but to a much broader class of online communicators; also waiting in the wings are blind advocates who believe the law requires the addition to movies of supplementary soundtracks describing action. As I pointed out to the Boston Globe, obligatory captioning, soundtrack supplementation and the like is likely to make it uneconomic to offer streaming of many films with low expected circulation. Note, however, by way of contrary precedent, this 2010 federal court ruling that online multiplayer games are not a public accommodation. My new post is here (& Allen McDuffee, Washington Post “Think Tanked”, Alexander Cohen/Atlas Society, George Leef/John Locke Foundation, Sam Bagenstos/Disability Law.)

P.S. And this must-read post at Ars Technica from prominent Internet law blogger Eric Goldman (“a bad ruling. Really terrible.” and contrary to precedent). Bonus: “I am so sick and tired of hearing people like Olson… the Walter Olsons of the world” [Ellen Seidman, Parents mag]

From comments: web accessibility trips up a state medical board

Thanks to reader Hugo Cunningham for spotting this in a new Boston Globe report on the failure of the Massachusetts state medical board to post physicians’ disciplinary problems and other performance issues online:

Another major omission has resulted from a Catch-22-like requirement in state law. Russell Aims, the … chief of staff
[of the Massachusetts Board of Registration in Medicine], said the board used to post digital copies of its disciplinary orders [for medical malpractice]. But an online accessibility law requires that documents be available in a text-to-speech format for the visually impaired.

Because the PDF format of the disciplinary records is not compatible with text-to-speech software, Aims said, the law dictates that such records cannot appear in the database. If the visually impaired cannot access the information, then no one can.