One blind New York resident has had over 40 Americans with Disabilities Act cases filed between January and February 2018. Attorneys filed these cases against financial giants such as First Central Savings Bank and East West Bancorp, complaining that a visually impaired person’s civil rights are compromised by the lack of access to business websites. However, some are concerned that attorneys are clogging the legal system with frivolous lawsuits for profit, not for the sake of helping the visually impaired secure their civil rights.
In one of the complaints which was filed in January, the plaintiff’s attorneys Joseph Mizrahi and Jeffrey and Dana Gottlieb describe how visually impaired or blind individuals can usually access websites by utilizing screen-access software. However, the website’s content must be rendered in text format. The lawyers contend that the World Wide Web Consortium, a leading internet standards community, has instituted website access protocols for the visually impaired and blind.
Mizrahi asserts that his firm is committed to helping clients fight for their civil rights. He hopes that the defendants will work to make websites accessible to all. However, Jeffrey Gottlieb hypothesizes that many businesses do not comply because they lack expertise with web access software. Furthermore, Gottlieb notes that the legal dilemmas of web access are new and not often considered by companies.
As with many other noble causes, the issue of web access for the visually impaired is vulnerable to abuse by money-hungry lawyers. To curtail unnecessary lawsuits, the federal House of Representatives passed the ADA Education and Reform Act in February. Advocates for the visually impaired worry that the bill would impede lawsuits aimed to protect the rights of the disabled. On the other hand, some experts feel that the legal system needs stronger safeguards to deal with increasing ADA-related disputes.
Tom Stebbins, the executive director of Lawsuit Reform Alliance of New York, believes that “ADA lawsuit mills” are abusing the ADA to increase revenue instead of website access. Stebbins laments that businesses and organizations of all sizes are being targeted with no prior notice of possible website access barriers. He is concerned that the House bill does not deal with the proliferation of website-related suits.
Stebbins is calling on the U. S. Department of Justice and courts to impose tougher restrictions. He asserts that the Justice Department should be analyzing and interpreting laws while judges and bar associations should be scrutinizing and punishing exploitative attorneys that attempt to profit from the website access issue.
Unfortunately, this is yet to take place.