Web Accessibility, Structured Negotiations and DOJ Rulemaking

Department of Justice

On July 26, 2010, the United States Department of Justice issued an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) on the issue of website accessibility. The Advanced Notice asks a series of questions for the public to answer to help the Justice Department in its rulemaking process.

This post provides information, resources and examples of large commercial websites that have been designed to meet accessibility standards. These sites are operated by some of the largest entities in the United States, including Bank of America, Major League Baseball and CVS. These entities and the others referenced here have made their websites accessible without litigation as a result of Structured Negotiations and other advocacy efforts.

The accessible websites highlighted in this post demonstrate that web accessibility is not only possible, but that it has been implemented for many years in complex environments by some of the country’s largest commercial entities. This information is intended as a resource for individuals and organizations preparing comments in response to the DOJ ANPRM. Comments are due on January 24, 2011. Additional information relevant to the DOJ web accessibility ANPRM will be available on LFLegal.com in the coming months. You can also follow LFLegal on Twitter. If you have or know about a site meeting WCAG 2.0 standards, please use the Contact Page to let me know.

This post is about the websites of large commercial entities. You may also be interested in the post about how a small business — the Law Office of Lainey Feingold – meets WCAG 2.0 accessibility standards. Read the post about LFLegal and web accessibility.

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U.S. Commercial Entities with Web Accessibility Initiatives as a Result of Structured Negotiations

Major League Baseball Web Accessibility Initiative

In 2010, Major League Baseball Advanced Media (MLBAM) the digital arm of Major League Baseball, the American Council of the Blind, the Bay State Council of the Blind and the California Council of the Blind signed a landmark web accessibility agreement. MLBAM agreed that its main site (www.mlb.com) as well as the websites of all 30 major league baseball teams, would meet Success Criteria Level AA of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, version 2.0.

Major League Baseball’s commitment is announced on its Accessibility Information Page:

MLB.com has utilized guidelines issued by the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) to implement functional improvements to MLB.com. We are working to ensure that all content on www.mlb.com and all content on the club sites satisfy Level A and AA Success Criteria set forth in WCAG 2.0. — MLB.com’s Accessiblity Information Page

Resources about MLB’s Web Accessibility Initiative

United States Credit Reporting Agencies Agree to On-Line Access

In 2008, the three major credit reporting agencies in the United States — Experian, TransUnion and Equifax — agreed to make on-line credit reports conform to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. Information provided in credit reports is highly sensitive. Working with the American Council of the Blind and blind individuals in the Structured Negotiations process, the credit agencies developed a telephone-based audio CAPTCHA that has proven effective for the more than two years the agreement has been in place.

Accessible Credit Report Resources

Bank of America Web Accessibility Initiative

Bank of America was the first Bank in the United States to sign a web accessibility agreement with the blind community. In 2000, the California Council of the Blind, several blind individuals and the bank signed a landmark agreement in which the bank agreed to make its website, including on-line banking accessible to people with disabilities.

Bank of America’s Accessible Banking Portal includes a link to information about its commitment to web accessibility. The page states that

We’re continually enhancing our Web environment to increase accessibility and usability for all of our customers. These enhancements are based on universal design and priorities one and two of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). — Bank of America Accessible Banking Web page

Resources about Bank of America’s Accessibility Efforts

Web Accessibility and Other Banks

While the first, Bank of America is not the only financial institution with an on-going commitment to web site accessibility. Other banks who signed web accessibility agreements include the following

Bank One / Chase Bank and Washington Mutual

In 2001, Bank One signed a web accessibility agreement with blind advocates in Chicago. When Chase purchased Bank One some years later, it maintained the commitment to accessibility. Chase later purchased Washington Mutual, another financial institution that had reached a web accessibility agreement through Structured Negotiations. The Chase website confirms its ongoing commitment to web accessibility:

Chase is actively engaged in efforts necessary to meet online usability and web page design requirements recommended by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) in its Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0. — Chase Accessibility Page

Resources about Bank One, Washington Mutual, and Chase Web Accessibility Efforts

Wells Fargo and First Union (Wachovia)

Although its Structured Negotiations agreement with the California Council of the Blind and others in the blind community addressed only Talking ATMs and alternative formats, Wells Fargo Bank has taken a leadership role in on-line accessibility. The Bank’s Accessibility page notes that Wells Fargo’s “services include an accessible Web site” and bears the seal of an award of honor from the National Disability and Business Council.

In 2008 Wells Fargo purchased Wachovia, a company that was the outgrowth of an earlier merger between First Union and Wachovia. In 2003 First Union signed a web accessibility agreement with the North Carolina Council of the Blind and other blind organizations and individuals.

Resources about Wells Fargo and First Union Web Accessibility Efforts

LaSalle and Fleet Banks

In 2001, Fleet Bank was the first New England financial institution to sign a web accessibility agreement with the blind community in Massachusetts, including the Bay State Council of the Blind. In 2004, the LaSalle Bank’s agreement with the blind community in Illinois also included web accessibility provisions. Both these institutions were subsequently purchased by Bank of America.

Resources about LaSalle and Fleet Web Accessibility Initiatives

Sovereign and Citizens Bank

In 2002 Sovereign Bank signed an agreement with the Bay State Council of the Blind and others to make its website accessible to blind and visually impaired customers. Two years later, Citizens bank also signed a settlement agreement that included a commitment to web accessibility.

Resources about Sovereign and Citizens Bank Web Accessibility Initiatives

National Retailers Agree to Make Their Websites Accessible

Banks are not the only commercial entities to adopt web accessibility as a business practice. In 2008 and 2009, first Rite-Aid, and then CVS and Staples, signed web accessibility agreements with the American Foundation for the Blind and the American Council of the Blind and its California affiliate. These institutions agreed to meet Priorities 1 and 2 of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 1.0, the version of the guidelines in place at the time of the negotiations.

Resources about CVS, Rite-Aid, and Staples Accessibility

Details of the DOJ ANPRM and How to File Comments

Information about the DOJ Web Accessibility ANPRM

The DOJ’s Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) was issued on July 26, 2010. In the Notice, the DOJ asks 19 questions about web accessibility, including the potential impact of proposed regulations, potential compliance difficulties, the availability of resources to assist in designing accessible websites and related questions. Read the web accessibility ANPRM on the Department of Justice website.

The accessible websites highlighted in this post demonstrates that web accessibility is not just possible, but that it has been implemented for many years in complex environments by some of the country’s largest commercial entities. (Full accessibility has also been implemented on smaller sites: this website, of the Law Office of Lainey Feingold, was, for example, one of the sites achieving WCAG 2.0 Level AAA compliance and was featured in the Implementation Report issued as part of the WCAG 2.0 approval process. Read about the WCAG 2.0 process.)

Information about filing comments

Individuals and organizations can submit answers to these questions and provide other comments on line at the Federal Web page for filing comments on web access.

Comments must be submitted by midnight Eastern time on or before January 24, 2011. Model comments and other relevant information is being developed by various organizations. Please use the Contact page of this website if you would like to receive information relevant to responding to the Department of Justice web accessibility rule making.