The US Justice Department is intervening in a private lawsuit against H&R Block for violating the Americans with Disabilities Act. H&R Block is a large provider of American tax services and informational services for tax payers.
According to the US Justice Department, H&R's website is not accessible to many individuals with disabilities. In a statement, the Justice Department claims the website "prevents some people with disabilities from completing even the most basic activities on the site."
The United States demands that H&R Block is fined a penalty to "vindicate the public interest" and to award money to the individuals who sued the company.
The Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits discrimination of disability by public accommodations in the "full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges advantages and accommodations."
When the ADA law was signed in 1990 by the first President Bush, the internet, for all intents and purposes, did not exist. At the time, the law largely addressed architectural barriers for the disabled, such as stairs, elevators, and door dimensions.
In a statement, the Justice Department claims websites are public accommodations and owners must take the necessary steps to ensure individuals with disabilities are not excluded or "treated differently because of the absence of auxiliary aids and services" including the "accurate captioning of audible materials and labeling of visual materials."
Applying the definition of "public accommodations" to any business or individual who creates a website, the Justice Department's novel use of the law would require websites from Reddit, Buzzfeed, Gawker, Amazon, YouTube, Twitter and Gmail to provide labeled images, captioned videos, and a structure that would allow a blind person to easily use and navigate the website using "consensus-based" technology.
Screen-readers and other software have long been used to help those with disabilities to navigate the electronic world. The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 have been established by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) as a guideline to help website creators build a site that allows the disabled to access and successfully use it.
"We are building an electronic world in which we ever-increasingly live," said U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz for the District of Massachusetts. "All benefit when, as the ADA requires, we build our online businesses, schools and other public spaces in a manner equally accessible to all."
The case is National Federation of the Blind et al v. HRB Digital LLC et al.