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Advertising, Marketing & Promotions Alert >> H&R Block’s Website Accessibility Settlement Suggests How to Become ADA-Compliant

March 25, 2014

A settlement of a lawsuit reached by H&R Block alleging that its website failed to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) suggests some of the steps that companies might consider taking to comply with the ADA.

Background
The National Federation of the Blind and two individuals sued HRB Digital LLC and HRB Tax Group, Inc. (together, H&R Block) in federal district court in Massachusetts, alleging that H&R Block’s website, a tax preparation product on the H&R Block website, and H&R Block’s mobile applications contained barriers that prevented full and equal use by individuals who had vision, hearing, and physical disabilities, in violation of Title III of the ADA. That law prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, and accommodations of any place of public accommodation by any private entity that owns, leases (or leases to), or operates any place of public accommodation. After the lawsuit was filed, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) intervened on behalf of the plaintiffs.

Without admitting that it had violated the ADA, H&R Block now has entered into a consent decree with the original plaintiffs and the DOJ. The consent decree is subject to court approval.

Terms of the Consent Decree
Under the terms of the consent decree, H&R Block first agreed that it would not deny individuals with disabilities the opportunity to participate in and benefit from the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, and accommodations provided through its website, its tax filing utility, and its mobile apps.

It next agreed to a web accessibility conformance timeline. By January 1, 2015, H&R Block agreed that its website and tax filing utility would conform to, at minimum, the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 Level A and AA Success Criteria (WCAG 2.0 AA) (available at http://www.w3.org/TR/WCAG20/).

Then, H&R Block also agreed that, by January 1, 2016, its mobile apps would conform to, at minimum, the WCAG 2.0 AA. The company also agreed that third-party plug-ins or content also would conform to WCAG 2.0 AA. The parties acknowledged that a third-party plug-in that H&R Block currently uses to display the map location of its physical offices was not in conformance with WCAG 2.0 AA, and H&R Block agreed that, within three years after the court approves the consent decree, it would provide a method of obtaining and using map content that does conform to WCAG 2.0 AA.

Among other things, H&R Block also agreed to the following:

  1. Designating an employee as the Web Accessibility Coordinator for its website, its tax filing utility, and its mobile apps by June 15, 2014, who would report directly to H&R Block’s chief information officer;
  2. Adopting a Web Accessibility Policy by June 1, 2014;
  3. Appointing a Web Accessibility Committee by July 15, 2014 charged with monitoring and maintaining conformance of its website, its tax filing utility, and its mobile apps with WCAG 2.0 AA throughout the five-year term of the consent decree;
  4. Providing a notice by July 15, 2014, “prominently and directly linked from the www.hrblock.com homepage,” soliciting feedback from visitors to the website on how the accessibility of its website, its tax filing utility, and its mobile apps could be improved; the link must provide several methods to provide feedback, including an accessible form to submit feedback or an email address, and a toll-free phone number  – with Teletypewriter (TTY) –to contact representatives knowledgeable about the Web Accessibility Policy; 
  5. Training its call center agents by December 1, 2014 to automatically escalate calls from users with disabilities who encounter difficulties using its website and tax filing utility, and having at least five percent of its staff trained to handle escalated calls; H&R Block must meet these same requirements for its mobile applications by December 1, 2015;
  6. Providing web accessibility training to all employees who write or develop programs or code for, or who publish final content to, its website, its tax filing utility, and its mobile apps on how to conform with WCAG 2.0 AA;
  7. Creating a User Accessibility Testing Group by October 1, 2014; and
  8. Retaining an independent web accessibility consultant.
 
 

Bottom Line

Website accessibility under the ADA is an issue of ongoing concern, with companies not clearly understanding whether they need to comply and if so, how to do so. Indeed, it’s not clear whether ADA compliance applies to all websites, or only certain types of websites.  The H&R Block settlement may finally provide a starting point for a roadmap. Further information on the ADA’s application to websites will be available when the DOJ issues guidance on the subject, expected in April.