April 3, 2019

Accessible Information Delivery – Florida Municipalities

Dennis Quon | Director, Document Accessibility Solutions
document accessibility software products

There is something a foot in Florida.  Municipalities and small businesses are under attack from disability activists.  In the past couple months, we’ve seen every municipality and a good number of businesses receive demand letters threatening of a lawsuit if their websites and documents are not made accessible.

The American’s with Disabilities Act (ADA), a civil rights piece of legislation has been around for more than 28 years however it does not have prescriptive requirements to have your web or electronic documents made accessible.  So, what has changed?  With the reliance of websites as the first point of contact for any business or organization, we’ve seen more and more lawsuits requiring those sites to be made inclusive.

In 2015, the Department of Justice (DOJ) was involved in 15 lawsuits around accessibility requirements.  In 2018, there were over 2285 lawsuits.  In 2019, these numbers are growing even faster.  These numbers exclude the thousands of settlements and litigation that has occurred outside of the DOJ.  The court rulings in many of these lawsuits have ruled in favor of the plaintiff and arguments that a website is not linked to a physical establishment has pretty much been thrown to the wind.  As a result, those litigating are winning or settling more court cases despite the ADA lacking the definition in its legislation.

As a result of the rulings, defendants are saying this is a “legal extortion”.  While the defendants are screaming, we know accessibility is a human right and the right thing to do.  The 11th Circuit Court has overwhelmingly ruled and ruled to plaintiff in both cases and in appeals.  Those fighting and losing are spending an inordinate amount of time and money.  Few defendants are winning.

Municipalities throughout Florida are under similar duress in recent months, they are actively seeking solutions to make their public facing electronic documents on their websites accessible.  Sometimes we are seeing tens of thousands of pages.  Manual remediation is not the answer.  High volume solutions that can push thousands of pages in hours rather than a hundred pages per remediator per day is required.

Here is what we are seeing:

  • Agenda, meeting minutes, council meetings, budgets are all available on-line but not made accessible
  • Many records are stored using Laser Fiche. These files are scanned images and not accessible.  The metadata text files lack any formatting to allow the documents to be easily made accessible
  • Records go back as far as the 1950’s.
  • Need to inventory and understand the size and scope of the issue

What do the municipalities need to do to fix this?

  • Information on websites must be tagged for assistive technologies such as a screen reader like JAWS, NVDA or Voiceover
  • Videos must be captioned for the deaf or hard of hearing
  • Websites need to have alternate navigation and or options to make the content more readable – contrast management or even large font
  • Documents – electronic documents available on the website must be made accessible
  • Consider plans for other alternate formats like Braille, Large Print or Audio
  • Look for tools to crawl or provide a health check your enterprise / website to determine what documents are in scope

A successful implementation includes finding an accessibility organization that can support all your needs.  This can include websites, portals for tax bills and other personalized content in addition to static published materials.

What should we do as a municipality?

  • Understand your timelines based on the legal demand
  • Look for high speed auto tagging and post manual quality assurance solutions in addition to desktop tools
  • Inventory what documents need to be made available and exposed and set up a game plan to get the highest priority done
  • Look at a way to Optically Character Recognize scanned content to text for remediation
  • Seek a solution to remediate what could potentially be a backlog of documents
  • Plan how to attack a back log of documents
    • Find a vendor that truly is in accessibility and can test and quality assure compliance
  • Ensure WCAG 2.0 AA minimum is met for tagged documents
  • Plan for future document authoring and keep a original, not imaged document. Remediate at the authoring level and provide a standardized template

Want to learn more about how to create a plan and execute your plan for creating accessible documents in your organization.  Join Dennis Quon and Scott Baker in our educational webinar to discuss what you need to do and why you need to plan, implement and test now. They will discuss regulations, what is driving demand and what to look for in a supplier or solution to ensure you are compliant. Register here for Document & Web Accessibility Compliance - Businesses and Municipalities are Becoming “Sitting Ducks” for Accessibility Compliance happening April 11 at 1pm ET.