During the previous United States presidential administration some very committed disability rights lawyers hunkered down in the Department of Justice (DOJ). They did what they could to protect the Americans with Disabilities Act during that challenging time. But there were very few proactive developments from the federal government in the digital accessibility space.
Today things are different! Two recent developments show that the Disability Rights Section of the DOJ and US Attorneys Offices are once again champions of disability rights generally and digital accessibility specifically, as they had been prior to 2016. It’s wonderful to have the DOJ back in business — a government agency that recognizes digital inclusion as essential to disability inclusion.
DOJ supports digital inclusion in the Quest Diagnostics kiosk accessibility lawsuit
On September 20, 2021, the United States Department of Justice filed a “Statement of Interest” in a federal court case in Los Angeles called Vargas and the American Council of the Blind (ACB) v. Quest Diagnostics. The case is about Quest Diagnostic’s failure to make its kiosks accessible to blind people. The DOJ’s statement supports the plaintiffs’ claim that inaccessible kiosks violate the ADA. (Matthew Handley, of the Washington, D.C. civil rights firm Handley, Farah & Anderson is representing the ACB in this case.)
A government agency can file a Statement of Interest to let a court know the agency’s view on a law it is in charge of implementing. The DOJ interprets and implements the ADA, and told the judge in the case it was filing the statement because:
As the agency charged by Congress with administering theADA, the United States Department of Justice has a vital interest in ensuring that public accommodations’ use of such kiosks does not result in discrimination against individuals with disabilities. DOJ Statement of Interest in Quest kiosk case
The DOJ’s statement explains that companies like Quest (with over 2,000 locations across the United States) must effectively communicate with disabled people. The technical term is that organizations covered by the ADA must provide “auxiliary aids and services.” The Statement told the court that
Particularly significant here, the regulations provide additional examples of auxiliary aids and services that may provide effective communication, including “accessible electronic and information technology.” Id. § 36.303(b). The regulations also clarify that auxiliary aids and services must be provided “in accessible formats, in a timely manner, and in such a way as to protect the privacy and independence of the individual with a disability” in order to be effective.
- Read the full Department of Justice Statement in ACB’s Quest kiosk case.
- Read more about legal actions to make kiosks accessible to people with disabilities.
New York U.S. Attorney recognizes the importance of accessible online Covid information
On October 5, 2021, the United States Attorneys Office for the Eastern District of New York, part of the federal DOJ, issued a press release with the headline:
United States Reaches Agreements with New York State and Local Government Agencies to Improve Accessibility to Covid-19 Vaccination Websites for People with Vision Impairments
The agreements were reached under Title II of the ADA with five New York State and local government agencies to fix accessibility barriers for people with visual impairments on their COVID-19 vaccination websites. The Acting US Attorney stated what blind people know to be true:
In the midst of the ongoing global pandemic, people with vision impairments must be able to access information about how and where to obtain COVID-19 vaccinations.
The agency thanked the nonprofit accessibility consulting group WebAIM for providing technical support for the project.
More DOJ activity and its digital accessibility history
Want to know more about the Department of Justice’s ADA enforcement work?
- The Biden Disability Rights Section has done important work beyond the digital accessibility activity mentioned here. The “New on ADA.gov” section of the DOJ’s ADA website lists other disability rights work by the Department.
- The agency’s ADA Enforcement page lists efforts since 2006.
- The DOJ’s Accessible Technology ADA Enforcement page does not appear to be kept up, but pulls out the older enforcement cases focused on technology from the bigger list linked above.
- Many of the Legal Update posts on this website include DOJ activity. For example
- The December 2016 Update includes a section titled “Department of Justice Continues to Mandate Digital Accessibility”.
- The Summer 2015 Update includes several cases in the section titled U.S. Department of Justice Continues Support for Digital Accessibility.