In Special Needs News

Teenager registering himself to get vaccinated using his mobile phone.For many individuals with disabilities, being able to go online and easily obtain information about COVID-19 vaccinations, as well as schedule or cancel appointments for those vaccinations via the web, has proven difficult.

Over the course of the pandemic, the U.S. Department of Justice has entered settlement agreements with a variety of businesses — from pharmacies such as Rite Aid to grocery store chains including Kroger — after these businesses were found to have failed in ensuring their websites and online vaccination portals were fully digitally accessible to individuals with disabilities.

People with certain disabilities often rely on assistive technology to access web content. Someone who is blind may use a screen reader to navigate the internet, for instance, while those who have certain impairments cannot operate a mouse and may only be able to use a keyboard to click through a website. The settlements require these businesses to meet certain standards of digital accessibility on their websites, to test their vaccine scheduling portals regularly for accessibility barriers, and to remedy those barriers as they emerge.

In light of the settlements, the Justice Department this spring issued web accessibility guidelines that outline how businesses known as “public accommodations,” such as hospitals and retail establishments, along with state and local governments, can make their websites compliant with the American with Disabilities Act (ADA).

“This guidance will assist the public in understanding how to ensure that websites are accessible to people with disabilities,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “People with disabilities deserve to have an equal opportunity to access the services, goods and programs provided by government and businesses, including when offered or communicated through websites.”

In a recent related development, a bipartisan group of legislators also sent a letter earlier this week to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), urging it to ensure that the VA websites meets digital accessibility standards for veterans with disabilities. According to a 2019 report, only 8 percent of the VA’s websites are compliant.

The Justice Department’s full guidance on web accessibility is available online.  

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