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More than 75 art galleries in New York have been served with lawsuits claiming that they have violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by failing to make their websites accessible to blind or visually impaired people.
Galleries targeted include Gagosian, Hirschl & Adler, Pace Editions, David Zwirner, and Marian Goodman. At least 37 of the suits were filed by a single plaintiff, Deshawn Dawson, a legally blind person living in Brooklyn.
This news reflects a growing trend: lawsuits targeting business websites over ADA violations are on the rise, according to the LA Times. Such lawsuits, which have targeted institutions ranging from the Hooters restaurant chain to Harvard University, stem largely from a lack of clarity in regulatory policies. There are no formal government standards for businesses to follow to ensure their websites comply with the ADA. That’s because, when the ADA became law in 1990, legislators who decided to prohibit companies from discriminating against people with disabilities “in the full and equal enjoyment of public accommodations” could not have anticipated how these rules might eventually apply to the internet. In recent years, the Department of Justice’s efforts to update the regulations have been stymied by the Trump administration and remain incomplete.
While the US government doesn’t specify what it means for a website to comply with the ADA, in 2008 the Web Accessibility Initiative published the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, which now serve as an ISO standard. These guidelines stipulate that an accessible website’s content must be coded so that screen-reading software can convert the words to an audio translation. Web videos must include descriptions for the deaf, and all interactive functions must be operable through keyboard commands for people unable to use a mouse.
The costs of making a site accessible depend on the site’s complexity and can range from several thousand dollars to a few million. Because of their frequent use of features like slideshows, art gallery websites are usually on the more complex side.
While increasing web access for the visually impaired is, of course, an important cause, some have raised concerns that lawyers are clogging the courts with ADA lawsuits to turn a profit, not for the sake of fighting for the rights of people with disabilities.
The recent complaints against art galleries, first reported by artnet News, were filed in US District Court for the Southern District of New York. They include claims that the business’ websites lack a code that would enable screen-reading software in browsers to describe images via audio translation. The complaints state that Dawson aims to change the businesses’ “corporate policies, practices, and procedures so that defendant’s website will become and remain accessible to blind and visually impaired consumers.”