People with disabilities make up about one fifth (20%) of the population of the United States. Not all of these people have disabilities that make it difficult for them to access the internet, but a significant portion do. For many public institutions, creating a website that is compliant with Section 508 Accessibility Standards is the law. For the private sector, ensuring websites meet accessibility standards is not only a best practice in communications, it is also of legal importance given the recent rise in accessibility lawsuits against companies and employers.
One of the most well known accessibility lawsuits was filed by the National Federation of the Blind and Bruce Sexton against Target Corporation in 2006 and many other have followed. More recently, Disney (2011), H&R Block (2013), Marriott (2013) & Lucky Jeans (2014) have all had to address website and application accessibility under pressure from the federal government. According to The Wall Street Journal, the H&R Block case offers a clear roadmap for more lawsuits.
Internal Facing Websites Matter Too
While most organizations are familiar with the idea that public facing websites and applications need to be accessible, the Marriott case is one of internal, employee accessibility. A Marriott employee filed a claim that he had been ‘excluded from advancement to a management position with Marriott based on the hotel chain’s requirement that managers use a Sales Force Automation software program by the Oracle Corporation called Siebel CRM.’ Effectively, the employee claimed he was unfairly denied a benefit because an internal, 3rd party web application was not ADA compliant. Lawsuits like this one confirm that accessibility is an important requirement of both websites for the general public AND internal, employee facing systems.
Corporate wellness efforts, particularly outcomes-based incentive designs, have had their share of legal pressure already (e.g. EEOC vs. Honeywell). As well, many employees have fought the idea of being ‘forced’ to participate by having their insurance premium benefit tied to wellness participation or health outcomes.
Recognize that within the corporate health and wellness arena, we have both a significant portion of the employee population with disabilities and a material portion of employees who do not like the idea of company involvement in their health. What happens when those two categories manifest within the same individual who is being asked to access a wellness website or application that is not ADA compliant? Does anyone think wellness portals and biometric screening schedulers will be exempt from this kind of legal pressure? My educated guess and that of others is that we will soon see a different brand of wellness lawsuit that you don’t need.
To help our clients avoid such a scenario, OHD has worked in concert with Kaiser Permanente to develop one of the only online wellness portal & biometric screening scheduler applications compliant with Section 508 as well as WCAG 2.0 Level A and AA Accessibility Standards. We hired Access Ingenuity, a leading provider of assistive technology and accessibility services and solutions for people with disabilities and organizations working with people with disabilities, to independently verify our application’s compliance. Details of our conformance are identified by Access Ingenuity in our Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT).
In summary, making sure employee facing websites and applications are compliant with Section 508 as well as WCAG 2.0 Level A and AA Accessibility Standards is not only a best practice, it is also a legal priority. If your wellness vendors cannot provide you with a VPAT or similar document, your company may be at risk for legal action.