Lawsuits targeting business websites over ADA violations are on the rise

Smart City ADA Accessibility

Originally published on LA Times

The boutique Avanti Hotel is known for its poolside, dog-friendly rooms. Yet its website uses the valuable opening page not to highlight the Palm Springs inn’s amenities, but to explain, in stark black letters on a plain white background, that the Avanti violated the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Like thousands of other businesses in the United States, the 10-room hotel on East Stevens Road has been sued because it hasn’t fully complied with the 1990 law that requires public places — hotels, restaurants and shops — to be accessible to people with disabilities.

In 2010, the Justice Department began to draft formal regulations for websites to meet ADA goals. But last December, the agency announced it was withdrawing its “rulemaking process,” at a time when the Trump administration was calling for a rollback of federal regulations.

The department said it was killing the regulations because it was “evaluating whether promulgating regulations about the accessibility of web information and services is necessary and appropriate.”

In a June 20 letter, 103 members of Congress — Republicans and Democrats — urged then-Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions to adopt website regulations, saying the absence of such regulations “only fuels the proliferations of these suits.”

Lawyers who defend ADA lawsuits say the Justice Department’s actions to pull the plug on adopting new regulations may have instigated the latest surge in lawsuits.

Business owners who are sued under the ADA complain that the law allows plaintiffs to demand huge payouts in damages without first giving the business owner the opportunity to fix the websites.

Read full article as originally published on LA Times

A Smart City Is an Accessible City

Smart City ADA Accessibility

Originally published on The Atlantic

A new breed of accessibility apps can make life easier for people with disabilities. They can also make it harder.

Excerpt:

A group gathers on a Nashville street corner, some rolling in wheelchairs and others walking. They have arrived holding their smartphones and make friendly chatter while a coordinator helps them log in to an app. Dispersing in small groups, they examine restaurants, cafes, and shops, looking for features signaling that disability is welcome there: a parking sign with the International Symbol of Access, a wheelchair ramp, an automatic front door, a wide bathroom stall with grab bars, braille text, low-flicker lighting, glare-free floors, scent-free soap. The groups use the app to document and rate these features. Once submitted, the information accumulates in a database that others can use to find accessible locations.

Excerpt:

But even if all these problems were solved, digital-accessibility apps still pose one final threat to disability advocacy in urban environments. Apps can make cities more navigable, but they do not change the material features of that environment. Most of the time, they record the current conditions in the built environment rather than advocate for better ones. Before apps came on the scene, disability activists used mapping to catalog injustices and to imagine alternative futures: new environments in which accessibility was the norm, rather than the exception. Contemporary projects should incorporate that lesson, too. By incorporating knowledge from broad groups of people with disabilities, digital mapping could do more than just record the world as it is today. It could also drive political, design, and policy improvements. After all, to deserve the name, a smart city ought to be a better city, not just a more technological one.