Visual aid

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What are the rules covering computers and the internet for those that suffer visual impairments?

Visual impairments affect three percent of the population over the age of 40. They are less common among students, but can still cause major issues in a time when you need to spend a lot of hours working on a computer. A different keyboard is needed for someone with visual disabilities, these can be purchased and set up quite easily. The situation covering websites is a little trickier as you will discover.

The ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) provided a number of guidelines covering layout and web design for people with visual difficulties. Courts have been slow to keep pace with technology and cases involving disputes over the ADA have been rising.

Hindrances and barriers to those with disabilities, such as wheelchair access, acceptance of guide dogs, and accommodations for those with hearing or vision disabilities are covered under the ADA. The Department of Justice, which is responsible for enforcing the ADA, made the act also applicable to websites a few years ago. Proposed amendments to the Act are not expected until 2018, but complaints are already being filed.

The DoJ has already received 6,391 accessibility complaints in 2015, a figure 40% higher than the previous year. Law firms acting on behalf of plaintiffs are circulating letters to companies, institutions and universities on behalf of disabled individuals that use the internet to access products or services. Eyecare medical professionals are especially active in identifying access barriers and purported ADA violations on websites. They are requesting organizations update their websites to become World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) and ADA compliant.

Big brand retailers are getting targeted in New York and California, many have already been hit by lawsuits claiming that their websites do not provide the same public provisions for the disabled as their stores do. In Florida, a recent ruling stated that retailer websites must be compatible with screen reading software or similar technology for the visually impaired.

The trial arrived at a cost of $37,000 to develop the website to comply with ADA regulations. This is a big chunk of change for a small company and many will not have the resources to pour into further web redesigns. Restaurants are also being targeted as those with visual disabilities may struggle with home cooking and so will need to eat out or order online. Websites and menus therefore need to be easily accessible to all readers and customers.

Federal law does prohibit the awarding of damages from ADA suits, but that does not stop escalating legal fees accrued during disputes. There is an ADA agency that can advise companies on how to make their websites compliant with the new rulings. Online code checkers can also test a website for W3C standards and programmers can make those changes.

In addition to keeping the lawyers away, making websites ADA compliant will also increase overall functionality, attract more potential customers, and boost general search visibility.

The only thing worse than being blind is having sight but no vision. – Helen Keller

Written by Jacob Maslow, founder and editor of Legal Scoops.

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