ADA’s Assault on the Web: Your Turn, Congress

The Economist reports on a phenomenon I’ve been covering all year, how lawyers are beginning to churn out assembly-line complaints against businesses over their websites’ lack of Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA, accessibility:

[Texas attorney Omar Weaver] Rosales says extending ADA rules to websites will allow him to begin suing companies that use color combinations problematic for the color-blind and layouts that are confusing for people with a limited field of vision.

While as I noted in January the Obama administration has declined to issue long-anticipated regulations prescribing web accessibility, its Department of Justice has taken the less visible route of supporting private lawsuits intended to accomplish many of the same goals, including (to quote The Economist again):

a National Association of the Deaf lawsuit against Harvard for not subtitling or transcribing videos and audio files posted online. As such cases multiply, content may be taken offline. Paying an accessibility consultant to spot the bits of website coding and metadata that might trip up a blind user’s screen-reading software can cost $50,000 for a website with 100 pages.

And of course brick-and-mortar businesses continue to be exposed to the full force of opportunistic complaints from ADA filing mills:

The hundreds of pages of technical requirements [relating to ADA’s Title III] have become so “frankly overwhelming” that a good 95% of Arizona businesses haven’t fully complied, says Peter Strojnik, a lawyer in Phoenix. He has sued more than 500 since starting in February, and says he will hit thousands more in the state and hire staff to begin out-of-state suits. … Violators must pay all legal fees [and courts ordinarily find violations]. 

With the Obama administration committed to pushing a view of the ADA inconsistent with online liberty, it is up to Congress to act, both by cutting off funds for DoJ adventurism and, more fundamentally, by amending the law to curtail theories that leave most current online content vulnerable to being chased off the web as non-compliant. While it’s at it, why doesn’t it address the ADA plight of brick-and-mortar Main Street businesses too? 

[expanded from an earlier version at Overlawyered]