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ADA Web Compliance: Is a Phone Number Enough?

blind man wearing sunglasses and golfers hat caring white cane and  holding a cell phone
One of the questions that we often receive from potential web accessibility clients is “aren’t I complying with the ADA if I put a phone number on my website so that disabled users could just call for information about my products or services?” This question is great given that in 2010 the Department of Justice (DOJ) stated that:

 “covered entities with inaccessible websites may comply with the ADA’s requirement for access by providing an accessible alternative, such as a staffed telephone line, for individuals to access the information, goods, and services of their website. In order for an entity to meet its legal obligation under the ADA, an entity’s alternative must provide an equal degree of access in terms of hours of operations and range of information, options, and services available. For example, a department store that has an inaccessible website that allows customers to access their credit accounts 24 hours a day, 7 days a week in order to review their statements and make payments would need to provide access to the same information and provide the same payment options in its accessible alternative.”

Consensus on the DOJ’s Statement 

Since 2010, a great deal of change has taken place when it comes to technology. In the last eight years, we’ve seen the invention of the iPad and a barrage of other brands of tablets. No one had a Fitbit. Facebook was such a great thing that it surpassed Google in the web’s most visited website and Net neutrality was just a buzzword that you heard in tech circles.  No one was prepared for how much the web would integrate itself into everyday life.

 Most business owners interpreted the 2010 DOJ statement to mean that their websites, didn’t necessarily need to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) so long as they could provide an alternative like a phone number to access the services or products offered on the website. On June 25, 2015, the DOJ would seemingly change its position.

Shift of Stance

Five years later,  the DOJ would shift its stance made in the September 2010 Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM)  thanks in part, to two lawsuits filed by the National Association of the Deaf (NAD), under Title III of the ADA and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act against Harvard University and MIT regarding the inaccessibility of videos on both university websites.

The DOJ filed Statements of Interest in both lawsuits in support of the NAD (seen in the links above) and expressed the uncertainty about when we would see any final government regulations on web accessibility. The Justice Department also recognized that there is a current need to make existing websites accessible, referencing the 2010 ANPRM and stating that it was looking “to explore whether rulemaking would be helpful in providing guidance as to how covered entities could meet their pre-existing obligation to make their websites accessible.”  This stance was a departure from the original statement in the 2010 ANPRM (quoted in the second paragraph).

One of the first major cases, to feel the impact of the DOJ’s shift in position is Gorecki v. Dave & Buster’s, Inc. The permanently blind plaintiff, Sean Gorecki, who uses screen reader software to navigate the internet claimed that many of the features on the Dave & Buster’s website were incompatible with his assistive technology, making the content of their site inaccessible to him. The Dave & Buster’s lawyers argued that the website was accommodating to screen reader users like Mr. Gorecki because the website had a banner that redirected users with visual impairments to the accessible telephone line with the words “if you are using a screen reader and are having problems using this website, please call 1 (888) 300-1515 for assistance.” The hotline number was staffed with a “receptionist”, who would field calls. 

In October 2017, the court concluded that the defendants could not definitively prove that the text for the hotline number on the banner was able to be read by the plaintiff’s screen reader technology, disagreeing that the appearance of the phone number on the website rendered the plaintiff’s claim moot.  Judge Philip Gutierrez, however, did acknowledge the DOJ’s 2010 stance that telephone access could mean compliance with ADA law in lieu of website accessibility. 

So, is the presence of a phone number enough for ADA Compliance?

At present, it appears that a telephone number alone won’t necessarily make your website compliant with the ADA. This can be especially true if you have a large website or one that is constantly updated. Additionally,  if you have a phone number that is not manned  24 hours a day, 7 days a week (the same timeframe people can have access to your website), then it is most likely, not an accessible alternative to your website.  If your site is currently ADA compliant, the addition of an accessibility number is a step in the right direction to better assist users with disabilities.

As we are not lawyers and can’t provide you with legal advice, we strongly encourage you to contact an attorney who specializes in ADA law to assess your current situation.

If your website needs an accessibility solution, please visit commonaccess.com or contact a member of our team for additional information.



Sources:
Mightybytes, New DOJ Position on Website Accessibility, https://www.mightybytes.com/blog/new-doj-position-on-website-accessibility-2/ 

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