April 10, 2017

Another U.S. City Settles Website Accessibility Lawsuit

When will they learn?  You can’t say, “no I’m not going to fix my website to accommodate the one or two deaf people who visit my website!”  You can’t! Okay?  You just can’t!

The City of Miami found out the hard way when Mr. Eddie Sierra, a local disability advocate, entered into a federal Consent Decree that guarantees the deaf and hard of hearing will now have equal access to video content on city’s website. Previously, video content was inaccessible to those with hearing disabilities because there were no closed captions. Under the consent decree, the city agreed to adopt the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0, an international standard for website accessibility, and to adhere to Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act.

But how did it get this far?  Who was the person or persons that made the decision to not fix the issue when it was first brought up?  There is always a first complaint, and usually it comes in the form of a friendly notice from someone who is actually affected.  Ignore these notices at your peril.  In the case of The City of Miami they at least responded to the request, but failed to act to resolve the problem.

“Neither Mr. Sierra nor others who are hard of hearing could access video recordings of the city’s government doing its business. This was a clear violation of the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act,” said J. Courtney Cunningham, Esq., who represented Mr. Sierra. “After getting past the early motions in the case, we worked with the City of Miami in a cooperative fashion. We are pleased the city resolved this matter quickly instead of engaging in pointless posturing while continuing to deny Mr. Sierra his basic rights as an American and taxpayer.”

In September 2016, Mr. Sierra wrote to the city and requested that it provide closed captioning for its video content and live streams of its City Commission meetings. Mr. Sierra received a response to his request, but he did not get requested closed captioning. In March 2017, J. Courtney Cunningham, Esq. filed a lawsuit on behalf of Mr. Sierra alleging violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. On June 27, 2017, the Court approved the Consent Decree which will remain in effect for 12 months.

“I’m happy that we were able to settle this litigation on positive terms for me and for others with hearing disabilities,” said Sierra. “The law guarantees that we have an equal opportunity to participate in all government programs, services, and activities. But, we had to fight to get these rights and we will have to fight to keep them. I’m proud to help bring positive change. This puts my community on an equal footing with people who hear perfectly. This is a great outcome for people with hearing disabilities who don’t use sign language. My attorney and I appreciate working with the City of Miami to reach a conclusion that improves accessibility and inclusiveness.”

There are some situations where the 508 Help Desk 24/7 Accessibility Attendant is inadequate to protect against such violations, as it would be cost prohibitive to engage a help desk technician for hours providing play by play for a city council meeting.  All situations are different.  A simple analysis of website operations will point us in the right direction.  When you’re ready to get help, we’re ready to help.  Contact us before you get a complaint, or if you’ve already been contacted.  We have a plan to fit almost any situation.