In 2015 the National Association of the Deaf sued Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, claiming they illegally omitted captions from course materials made available on the Web. In 2016 a blind customer sued Dominos Pizza, claiming its defective website prevented him from ordering a customized pizza.
Does the law require websites and other digital documents and applications to be disability-friendly? Lawyers argue over that question as they practice accessibility law. In the United States, the volume of digital-accessibility cases filed in federal courts, invoking the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and other statutes and regulations, has reached 4,000 per year. Many other claims are settled without reaching court.
Some attorneys practice accessibility law. They represent clients with disabilities (most commonly blindness) making claims, or clients defending themselves against such claims, or both—or they facilitate negotiations between the parties. Almost universally, even the attorneys who defend clients against accessibility claims advise their clients to make and keep their digital interfaces accessible and thereby minimize their exposure to successful claims.
So, what about their own websites? Do attorneys and law firms that practice accessibility law also practice accessibility?
In January 2022 I performed an automated accessibility testing procedure (
asp08 in Autotest) on web pages of 34 digital-accessibility law firms. For each firm, I tested the home page, and, if it exists, another page specifically describing the firm’s services in accessibility law. In some cases I relied on Accessibility.com’s tabulations of cases filed to identify a law firm even if its website does not state that it practices digital-accessibility law.
The procedure generated a score for each page. The lower the score, the better. A score of 0 would indicate that a page passed all the tests.
In the table below:
- Each name in the
Pagecolumn is a link to the page that was tested.
- Each number in the
Scorecolumn is a link to a detailed report.
Here are a few examples of the thousands of accessibility problems that these tests discovered:
- Accessible web pages must contain text alternatives to images, so software can describe the images to people who cannot see. The Equal Access package found 11 pages violating this requirement.
- The contrast between foreground and background must be great enough so people can read text and distinguish symbols easily. WAVE found contrast insufficient on 53 pages.
- Not all users can manipulate a mouse. Accessible pages let users move around by pressing the Tab and other keyboard keys. They outline the current item as a
You are heremark. One of Autotest’s tests found this feature missing or substandard on 63 pages.
- Some users can be disoriented or even suffer seizures when page content moves unexpectedly. One of Autotest’s tests found unsolicited motion on 16 pages.
The table above shows a wide range of scores, and accessiblity problems were found on all 66 pages. If the testing procedure fairly estimates over-all accessibility, law firms that practice accessibility law fall short—in some cases egregiously—in practicing accessibility.
True, there is no such thing as a perfect test, and fully automated tests sometimes miss, understate, or exaggerate problems. To mitigate this weakness, the
asp08 procedure conducts 525 tests. They include some tests designed for this procedure, but most of the tests are imported from widely used products made available by Deque (
axe-core), WebAIM (
WAVE), IBM (Equal Access), and Squiz Labs (HTML CodeSniffer). The detailed reports can guide website developers in making sites more accessible.
Attorneys involved in digital-accessibility litigation tell clients or adversaries to make websites accessible. However, to varying degrees, there is evidence that these attorneys are not doing so themselves. Until they do, their entreaties will amount to
Do as we say, not as we do. Moreover, they, too, will be vulnerable to website-accessibility claims.