Houston Transit Agency Digital Access Settlement Agreement

This is the settlement agreement between Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County and blind transit riders about the accessibility of the agency’s website and mobile application. The authority is the regional transit operator in Houston Texas. This agreement was negotiated in Structured Negotiation; no lawsuit was filed or needed. The blind riders were represented by Christopher McGreal of Disability Rights Texas and the Law Office of Lainey Feingold. The agency agreed to bring its digital properties into compliance with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0, Level AA. In doing so Houston Metro, as the Authority is known, assumes a leadership position nationally on providing all riders with digital access.

METROPOLITAN TRANSIT AUTHORITY OF HARRIS COUNTY ACCESSIBLE INFORMATION SETTLEMENT AGREEMENT

This Settlement Agreement (“Agreement”) is entered into by and between Lisa Batist and George Battiste (collectively referred to as “Claimants”) and Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County (hereinafter “Houston Metro”) for the purposes and on the terms specified herein and operates in conjunction with the Confidential Addendum to this Agreement. Together Batist, Battiste, and Houston Metro are referred to herein as the Parties.

RECITALS

This Agreement is based on the following facts:

A.
Lisa Batist is a resident of Texas, a Person with a Visual Impairment, and a person with a disability within the meaning of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (“Section 504”). Claimant Batist has been a rider of Houston Metro’s service for many years and is paratransit eligible with Houston Metro.
B.
George Battiste is a resident of Texas, a Person with a Visual Impairment, and a person with a disability within the meaning of the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Claimant Batist has been a rider of Houston Metro’s service for many years and is paratransit eligible with Houston Metro.
C.
Houston Metro maintains websites and mobile applications for its public transportation services to the City of Houston, Texas.
D.
A dispute has arisen between Claimants and Houston Metro concerning whether Houston Metro is adequately ensuring that the Houston Metro Websites, as defined below, are accessible to Persons with Visual Impairments (“Accessible Information Dispute” or “the Dispute”).
E.
On or about February 25, 2014, Claimants notified Houston Metro about the Dispute and offered to engage in Structured Negotiations, in lieu of litigation, to resolve the Dispute. In April 2014, the Parties executed a Structured Negotiations Agreement to protect the interests of all Parties during those negotiations. Since executing that agreement, the Parties have engaged in good faith negotiations and shared relevant information regarding the Dispute. The Parties now enter into this Agreement to resolve the Dispute and to avoid the burden, expense, and risk of potential litigation.
F.
By entering into this Agreement, Houston Metro does not admit, and specifically denies, that it has violated or failed to comply with any provisions of the ADA or Section 504, any applicable laws of any state relating to accessibility for Persons with Visual Impairments, any regulations or guidelines promulgated pursuant to those statutes, or any other applicable laws, regulations, or legal requirements. Neither this Agreement, nor any of its Exhibits, Addenda, terms or provisions, nor any of the negotiations connected with it, shall be construed as an admission or concession by Houston Metro of any such violation or failure to comply with any applicable law. This Agreement and its terms and provisions, including these Recitals and all Exhibits and Addenda, shall not be offered or received as evidence for any purpose whatsoever against Houston Metro in any action or proceeding, other than a proceeding to enforce the terms of this Agreement and the Confidential Addendum executed herewith.

NOW, THEREFORE, the Parties hereby agree to the following provisions:

1. Definitions.

As used in this Agreement, the following terms shall be as defined below:

1.1.
Accessible PDF means a PDF document that satisfies WCAG 2.0 Conformance Level AA Success Criteria.
1.2.
Claimants’ Counsel means Disability Rights Texas, the Law Office of Lainey Feingold and the attorneys practicing law therein.
1.3.
Customer Service Telephone means the customer service telephone number(s) published by Houston Metro.
1.4.
Effective Date means August 14, 2015.
1.5.
Person(s) with a Visual Impairment means any person who has a physical, mental or sensory impairment that substantially limits him or her in the major life activity of seeing.
1.6.
Houston Metro Application(s) for Mobile Devices (or “Houston Metro App”) means mobile applications published by Houston Metro for transportation riders of both fixed-route and paratransit services as defined by Title II of the ADA.
1.7.
Houston Metro Websites mean the website with the url www.ridemetro.org. This includes the new accessible website.

2. Duration of Agreement.

The terms of this Agreement shall remain in effect for ninety (90) days after the last obligation of this agreement is met.

3. Website Accessibility Provisions.

3.1.
Houston Metro will use best efforts to ensure that the Houston Metro Website substantially comply with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0, Conformance Level AA Success Criteria (“Access Standard”) by December 17, 2015. METRO has hired Knowbility to assist METRO’s conformance efforts. A report is due from Knowbility by August 17, 2015. The site will launch December 17, 2015, or four months after the report from Knowbility is received by METRO, whichever is later. If the site is not launched by the expected date of December 17, 2015, the parties will work together to either (i) agree upon an alternative date by which the Houston Metro Website will substantially comply with the Access Standard or (2) agree upon enhancements to the existing site. The Parties acknowledge that some WCAG Conformance Level AA Success Criteria address features or design elements that may not be used on the Houston Metro Websites, and in such circumstances compliance with those Success Criteria will not be required.
3.2. CAPTCHA.
If any Completely Automated Public Turing Test to Tell Computers and Humans Apart or similar visual or textual Turing or reverse-Turing verification test (referred to herein as “CAPTCHA”) is used on any Houston Metro Websites, Houston Metro will incorporate alternative security measures that are usable by Persons with Visual Impairments.
3.3. PDF Documents on the Houston Metro Websites.
3.3.1. Houston Metro will use best efforts to ensure that all PDF documents posted on the Houston Metro Websites are Accessible PDFs.
3.3.2. For all current electronic forms, Houston Metro shall make available, as soon as practicable, but no later than six (6) months after the effective date of this Agreement, one set of forms in PDF format that are in compliance with PDF/UA and WCAG 2.0 standards and are viewable, fillable, signable with a facsimile signature.
3.4. Website Accessibility Policy.
3.4.1. Houston Metro will develop a website accessibility policy by December 17, 2015, that, at a minimum, will include: (i) a statement of the Access Standard and Houston Metro’s commitment to use it; and (ii) the identification of the Web Accessibility Coordinator as set forth in Section 3.4.4. Houston Metro will provide Claimants with a draft of this website accessibility policy prior to it being finalized. Claimants will provide their feedback on this draft policy within fifteen (15) days of receipt, and Houston Metro will consider the feedback provided by Claimants in good faith. Nothing in this agreement obligates Houston Metro to incorporate Claimants’ comments so long as it is considered in good faith.
3.4.2. Houston Metro will require employees and contractors to comply with the policy described in Section 3.4.1.
3.4.3. Houston Metro will distribute this Policy to all personnel who design, develop, maintain, manage, or otherwise have responsibility for the content and format of www.ridemetro.org and mobile applications (“Web Content Personnel”).
3.4.4. As part of the policy, Houston Metro will designate department(s) responsible for the website and mobile applications to ensure ADA compliance. The departments will work with Houston Metro’s ADA Coordinator.

4. Houston Metro Applications for Mobile Devices Accessibility Provisions.

Houston Metro will use best efforts to ensure that any Houston Metro Applications for Mobile Devices substantially comply with the Access Standard by June 30, 2016, unless otherwise extended because of delays by third-party consultants/contractors, outside of METRO’s control. METRO will notify Claimants of any such delays. The Parties recognize that some WCAG 2.0 Level A and AA Success Criteria address features or design elements that may not be used on Houston Metro Applications for Mobile Devices and in such circumstances compliance with those Success Criteria is not required. The Parties also recognize that the accessibility of features used on Houston Metro Applications for Mobile Devices are dependent on the operating systems of third parties, over which Houston Metro has no control.

5. Accessibility Consultants, Usability Testing, and Compliance Tool.

5.1. Accessibility Consultants.
Web and Mobile Application Accessibility Expertise. During the term of this Agreement, Houston Metro shall ensure that it has sufficient expertise to comply with the Access Standard, either by utilizing qualified in-house personnel, or by retaining an outside consultant to assist Houston Metro’s principal web developers in ensuring substantial compliance with the Access Standard.
5.2. Usability Testing.
5.2.1. Usability Testing of Houston Metro Websites. At least once before the date set forth in Section 3.1, Houston Metro will ensure that the Houston Metro Websites are tested by a cross-section of People with disabilities, including visual Impairments using various types of devices, assistive technology, browsers, and operating systems. Houston Metro will also use reasonable efforts to ensure that any consumer focus groups convened to test products, services and content on the Houston Metro Websites include at least one Person with a Visual Impairment. Throughout the Term of the Agreement, Houston Metro will also consider feedback from Claimants regarding the accessibility and usability of the Houston Metro Websites.
5.2.2. Usability Testing of Proposed Alternatives to Visual Verifications. If, during the term of this Agreement, Houston Metro plans to include a new CAPTCHA on any of the Houston Metro Website(s), Houston Metro will make sure CAPTCHA is compliant. Houston Metro will also work with an Accessibility Consultant(s) to ensure that the usability of the alternative security measure is tested by a cross-section of People with disabilities including visual Impairments using different types of devices, assistive technology, browsers, and operating systems, prior to the inclusion of the CAPTCHA on the Houston Metro Website(s).
5.2.3. Usability Testing of Applications for Mobile Devices. Houston Metro will develop a testing protocol to ensure the usability of each release of a Houston Metro Application for Mobile Devices.
5.2.4. Houston Metro will give good faith consideration to all usability testing results and other feedback (collectively “feedback”) provided pursuant to Sections 5.2.1-5.2.3 and provided by Claimants consistent with the terms of this Agreement. Houston Metro will notify Claimants about the response to the feedback.
5.3. Automated Compliance Tool.

Houston Metro will utilize an automated compliance tool to help it assess accessibility issues on its new website.

6. Alternative Format for Print Information.

6.1.
Houston Metro will maintain its current practice of providing alternative format for print information upon request of the user within a reasonable time. Houston Metro will use its best efforts to provide large print the same day of the request. Braille print is available by working with Lighthouse for the Blind and the Houston Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities. Other alternatives include compact discs and electronic mail.

7. Accessibility Information Page on the Houston Metro Websites.

7.1.
At the time the new website is launched, Houston Metro will post an Accessibility Information page on the Houston Metro Website. The page will include, at a minimum: (i) information regarding Houston Metro’s efforts to meet the Access Standard on the Houston Metro Websites; (ii) information regarding Houston Metro’s efforts to meet the Access Standard for Applications for Mobile Devices, as applicable; (iii) information regarding use of the Houston Metro Websites by Persons with Visual Impairments including usability tips; (iv) a description of the types of documents Houston Metro makes available in alternative formats, the types of alternative formats available and the standards used for producing them, and the process for members and prospective members to request them; and (v) a web-based (or e-mail), and telephone-based method for Persons with Visual Impairments to contact Houston Metro regarding accessibility concerns.
7.2.
Houston Metro will provide Claimants with a draft of the Accessibility Information page(s) prior to its/their being finalized. Claimants will provide their feedback on this draft policy within fifteen (15) days of receipt, and Houston Metro will consider the feedback provided by Claimants in good faith. Nothing in this agreement obligates Houston Metro to incorporate Claimants’ comments so long as it is considered in good faith. The Accessibility Information Page(s) will, at a minimum, be available from a link on the footer of the home pages of the Houston Metro Websites and all pages where the footer appears. It will also be listed as a help topic on all Houston Metro Websites’ Help pages.

8. Meetings Regarding this Agreement.

8.1.
On a mutually agreed upon date during the Term of this Agreement, the Parties will meet by telephone to discuss any issue concerning implementation of this Agreement.
8.2.
Houston Metro will use best efforts to track all feedback it receives via email, telephone customer service, and the Houston Metro Websites from Persons with Visual Impairments regarding the issues addressed in Sections 3, 4, and 6 of this Agreement and to mitigate any accessibility barriers that might be identified.

9. Training of Houston Metro Staff.

To ensure effective implementation of this Agreement, Houston Metro will provide training to designated staff as set forth in this Section.

9.1. Telephone Customer Service Staff.
Houston Metro will provide training to its staff on how to route calls concerning accessibility issues on the Houston Metro Website and Mobile Applications.
9.2. Technical Support Telephone Staff.
Houston Metro will provide training on the following subjects to designated personnel who answer customer calls and provide information concerning website technical support and accessibility issues: (i) the types of assistive technology used by web users who are Persons with disabilities, including Visual Impairments; (ii) the fact that many visually impaired computer users rely solely on a keyboard, and do not use a mouse, to navigate a website; (iii) the existence and content of the Accessibility Information Page and the Web Accessibility Policy; and (iv) internal Houston Metro procedures for addressing web and mobile accessibility complaints.
9.3. Web and Mobile Application Development Staff.
Houston Metro will acquire, when necessary, the appropriate accessibility training for Houston Metro employees responsible for ensuring that the Houston Metro Websites and Mobile Application meet the Access Standard.
9.4.
Houston Metro will train appropriate staff in a timely manner on the topics identified in Sections 9.1 – 9.3. Houston Metro will provide refresher training as reasonably necessary and will train new staff on these topics upon initial hire.
9.5.
Houston Metro will provide Claimants with a copy of the training materials. Claimants will provide their feedback on the training materials within fifteen (15) days of receipt, and Houston Metro will consider the feedback provided by Claimants in good faith. Nothing in this agreement obligates Houston Metro to incorporate Claimants’ comments so long as it is considered in good faith.

10. Procedures in the Event of Disputes.

10.1. Notice of Non-Compliance.
If a Party believes that any other Party has not complied with any provision of this Agreement, that Party shall provide the other Party with Notice of Non-Compliance containing the following information: (i) the alleged act of non-compliance; (ii) a reference to the specific provision(s) of the Settlement Agreement or Confidential Addendum that are involved; (iii) a statement of the remedial action sought by the initiating party; and (iv) a brief statement of the specific facts, circumstances and legal argument supporting the position of the initiating Party.
10.2. Response.
Within thirty (30) days of receipt of a Notice provided pursuant to Section 10.1, the non-initiating Party shall respond to the initiating Party in writing.
10.3. Meet and Confer.
Within two weeks after the response described above, the Parties shall informally meet and confer and attempt to resolve the issues raised in the Notice.
10.4. Submission to Mediation.
If the matters raised in a Notice provided pursuant to 10.1 are not resolved within forty-five (45) days of the initial meet and confer required by Section 10.3, either Party may submit the unresolved matters to nonbinding mediation before a mutually agreed upon mediator.

11. Notice or Communication to Parties.

Any notice or communication required or permitted to be given to the Parties shall be given in writing by e-mail and by overnight express mail or United States first class mail, addressed as follows:

To: Claimants:

Christopher McGreal
Brian East
Disability Rights Texas
2222 W. Braker Lane
Austin, Texas 78758

To: Houston Metro:

Alva I. Trevino
General Counsel
Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County, Texas
P.O. Box 61429
Houston, Texas 77208-1429

12. Publicity Regarding This Agreement and Its Terms.

The parties will issue the press release attached hereto as Exhibit A within (30) days of the launch of the new Houston Metro website.

13. Agreement Binding on Assigns and Successors; No Third Party Beneficiaries.

13.1. Assigns and Successors.
This Agreement shall bind any assigns and successors of Houston Metro. Within thirty (30) days of assignment or succession, Houston Metro shall notify Claimants in writing of the existence, name, address and telephone number of any assigns or successors relating to the subject matters addressed herein.
13.2. No Third Party Beneficiaries.
This Agreement is for the benefit of the Parties hereto only and no other person or entity shall be entitled to rely hereon, receive any benefit herefrom, or enforce against either party any provision hereof. The Parties specifically intend that there be no third party beneficiaries to this Agreement.

14. Force Majeure.

The performance of Houston Metro under this Agreement shall be excused during the period and to the extent that such performance is rendered impossible, impracticable or unduly burdensome due to acts of God, strikes or lockouts, unavailability of parts, equipment or materials through normal supply sources, security threat, or any other event of force majeure. If Houston Metro seeks to invoke this Section as the result of an event of force majeure it shall notify Claimants in writing as soon as reasonably practicable, specifying the particular action(s) that could not be performed and the specific reason for non-performance. Claimants’ Counsel and Houston Metro will thereafter confer regarding an alternative schedule for completion of the action that could not be performed, or an alternative action. Any dispute regarding the applicability of this Section, or any future action to be taken, that remains after the confer session will be handled as a dispute pursuant to Section 10 of this Agreement.

15. Recitals and Exhibits.

The terms of any Recital or any Exhibit attached hereto are fully incorporated into this Agreement and are an integral part thereof. The terms of this Agreement, where applicable, are fully incorporated into all Exhibits and are, where applicable, an integral part thereof. The use of the term “Agreement” herein includes all Exhibits.

16. Multiple Originals/Execution in Counterparts.

Each Party and Claimants’ Counsel shall sign one copy of this document and each such copy shall be considered an original. This document may be executed in counterparts and facsimile and PDF signatures shall be accepted as original.

SO AGREED BY THE PARTIES:

  • METROPOLITAN TRANSIT AUTHORITY OF HARRIS COUNTY, TEXAS
    By: Thomas C. Lambert
    President & CEO
  • CLAIMANT- LISA BATIST
    By: Lisa Batist
    Claimant
  • CLAIMANT- GEORGE BATTISTE
    By: George Battiste
    Claimant
  • DISABILITY RIGHTS TEXAS
    By: Christopher McGreal
    Staff Attorney

APPROVED AS TO FORM:

  • By: Alva Treviño
    General Counsel
  • LAW OFFICE OF LAINEY FEINGOLD
    By: Lainey Feingold
    Counsel for Disability Rights Texas

AMENDMENT TO METROPOLITAN TRANSIT AUTHORITY OF HARRIS COUNTY ACCESSIBLE INFORMATION SETTLEMENT AGREEMENT

This Amendment to the Settlement Agreement is entered into by and between Lisa Batist and George Battiste (collectively referred to as “Claimants”) and the Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County, Texas (hereinafter “Houston METRO”) for the purposes and on the terms specified herein and operates in conjunction with the Confidential Addendum to this Agreement. Together Batist, Battiste and Houston METRO are referred to herein as the Parties.

RECITALS

WHEREAS, on August 14, 2015, METRO and the Claimants entered into a Settlement Agreement (“the Agreement”) to protect the interests of all parties during structured negotiations.

WHEREAS, upon further investigation the Parties determined it necessary to modify METRO’s responsibilities for PDF postings on the METRO website; and

WHEREAS, the rest of the Agreement’s terms and conditions will remain the same.

NOW, THEREFORE, for and in consideration of the recitals, the Parties agree as follows:

AGREEMENT

A.
Section 3.3.1 of the Settlement Agreement is hereby changed to read as follows:

“Houston Metro will use best efforts to ensure that all PDF documents posted on the Houston Metro Websites after January 1, 2016 are Accessible PDFs. Upon reasonable request by a Person with a Visual Impairment, Houston Metro will provide information contained in a PDF document posted prior to January 1, 2016 in alternative formats pursuant to Section 6 of this Agreement and in conformance with the Department of Transportation’s regulations.”

C.
Ratification: Except as modified herein, all other terms and conditions of the Settlement Agreement shall remain unchanged and shall remain in full force and effect.
D.

If there is a conflict between the Agreement and the Amendment; this Amendment shall prevail.
IN WITNESS WHEREOF, METRO and the Claimants have executed this Amendment and it shall be effective from the 29th day of January, 2016.

[Executed by Parties listed above]

Simplified Summary

This is a settlement agreement. It is about Houston METRO’s agreement to make its website easier for everyone to use, including disabled riders.  The agreement also requires Houston METRO to make mobile applications work for everyone.  Print documents will also be offered in other formats. This means that the website, mobile apps, and documents will be accessible. METRO worked with blind riders in this important effort. The transit agency also worked with disability rights lawyer Chris McGreal at Disability Rights Texas. The Law Office of Lainey Feingold also helped.  There was no lawsuit needed.  METRO is now a national leader in providing user-friendly written and digital information.  [Back to agreement.]