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National Restaurant Association - Why you should care about digital accessibility now

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Why you should care about digital accessibility now

Don’t overlook your website, mobile apps and digital communications when it comes to accommodating guests with disabilities.

Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act might have broader-reaching implications for your restaurant than your brick-and-mortar facility. As a place of public accommodation, your guest-facing technology might also be subject to ADA accessibility requirements. Those technologies could include websites apps, pdfs and other electronic content.

Restaurant companies are among the businesses that have recently received letters from plaintiff law firms, claiming business websites are inaccessible to people with disabilities, says Angelo Amador, NRA’s senior vice president and regulatory counsel.

The law is ambiguous and the Justice Department has so far provided little information on how the ADA applies to website accessibility. Six years ago, the DOJ said it intended to provide detailed regulations in 2018 to explain digital accessibility requirements for restaurants and other places of public accommodation covered by the ADA’s Title III. But even without the regulations in place, the DOJ has already entered into several settlements with businesses over website and app accessibility.

In addition to the ADA, digital accessibility also falls under Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Although Section 508 generally applies to federally funded entities, the issue could affect the private sector “a couple years down the line,” says Teresa Jakubowski, chairman of Barnes & Thornburg’s accessibility and disability law practice.

Jakubowski and Amador recently explored “Website and Digital Accessibility – A New Frontier of ADA Litigation” in a webinar that addressed the law’s ambiguity, predatory plaintiff lawyers and DOJ settlements.

Under DOJ settlements, Carnival Corp., Peapod, H&R Block and other companies had to ensure websites, apps, learning management systems and other electronic content conformed to Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, among other measures. The voluntary guidelines developed by the World Wide Web Consortium aim to make the web accessible to people with disabilities.

The guidelines address sensory issues, navigation, graphics, fonts, images, multi-media, coding and more. The guidelines urge website owners to be aware of website features that may interfere with screen-reader technology and other assistive devices. For example, the voluntary guidelines recommend that you determine whether an image is informative or decorative and code accordingly so screen readers can skip over decorative images. An interactive demo on the W3W website allows you to toggle between an inaccessible and accessible site.

If you have received letters from law firms about evaluating and monitoring your digital accessibility, they are out to make money, Amador says. If you decide to invest in monitoring, use your own consultant, he recommends.

Questions about digital accessibility? Contact Angelo Amador at (202) 331-5913.




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