Disney Sued Over Website Accessibility

Another major corporation is feeling the sting of a lawsuit over the accessibility of its websites. A news release posted on Feb. 15, 2011 indicates that three visually-impaired patrons of Disney have filed a class-action lawsuit against the company.

According to the press release, the main concerns of the suit include the fact that the websites include audio and video (presumably auto-played) that interferes with screen-reading software and is not keyboard-accessible, as well as the fact that the websites include Flash content with no text alternative.

The press release does not indicate how far-reaching the lawsuit is, but this could have major implications. Disney owns and manages multiple Web-based networks, including the websites for its theme parks, the websites for all of the ESPN and ABC television networks and many more.

According to the press release:

Anyone desiring to obtain or share further information about Disney’s treatment of blind persons are invited to contact attorney Andy Dogali of Tampa, Florida, at 813.289.0700 or adogali@forizs-dogali.com . The Plaintiffs’ brief is available for review in the “Documents” section at the bottom of this page.

I hope that, regardless of the outcome of the lawsuit, Disney will work to improve the accessibility of all of its websites, and that the rest of us will learn an important lesson from this. Accessibility is vitally important to the future of the Web.

Although the majority of high-profile accessibility lawsuits are filed on behalf of visually-impaired users (Target, Penn State, Disney, etc.), it is important to remember that the “accessibility” umbrella encompasses much more than concessions for the visually-impaired.

Keyboard accessibility is extremely important and useful for anyone with reduced motor skills, as well as users without access to a pointing device. Further, it is useful for those of us that prefer to keep our hands on the keyboard as much as possible, rather than switching back and forth between the mouse and keyboard.

Text alternatives to non-text content (images and photos, videos, audio, Flash content, etc.) are great for everyone. Many users with slower connections (dial-up or low-end broadband) would generally prefer to read a transcript of a video or audio file instead of waiting for it to load and dealing with endless buffering. It’s also preferable for many users to load the text alternatives in order to save time and bandwidth when working over a metered connection.

Also, for those of us that live in or work in noisy or busy homes and offices, captions and text alternatives can be invaluable.

In addition, since more and more users are now accessing the Web on mobile devices (none [or at least very, very few] of which support Flash content at all; and many of which still do not include full-featured browsers like those found on the iPhone or Android devices), it is important to make the content digestible in a format that’s composed mostly (if not entirely) of text content.

There’s so much more to accessibility, too. When evaluated carefully, I am certain that an overwhelming majority of users on the Internet would find that they suffer from one or more impairments that would benefit from better accessibility on the Web.

With that said, I hope that we all (myself definitely included) will use this news as the impetus to reevaluate our own websites and strive to improve accessibility all the way around.

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3 Responses

  • teebee

    Although I agree that websites should be accessible to all persons and all devices, it is after all a free service. I really don’t get someone suing over it. You don’t like the company or its website, don’t use it. I think this whole country is “sue happy” and taking things to extremes!

  • Norm Alexander

    @teebee – I understand how you feel, and taking that a step further I don’t believe there should be any laws compelling commercial websites to be accessible. However, if you could just spend 10 minutes with a blind person, and watch how they attempt to interact with an inaccessible website and you might agree that companies should be liable for not providing accessibility. The free market should compel commercial businesses to comply, not the law.

  • Eric Hendricks

    I personally feel that if a Law suit is the only way for some disabled folks to get a rise out of Disney then all the power to them. Here is the problem. Blind people… and most disabled people are of sound mind and simply want to have the ability to enjoy the simple form of communication that the internet offers. It is in the best interest of Disney to offer a website that is accessible to all veiwers. You see blind people can’t get the smaller companies to make changes… they know this… that is why they want Disney to make the change. Disney now has the opprotunity to lead the way in offering accessibility to the disabled. From a business stand point and personal experience as a web developer I want to say that an extra 2% in sale increase could be gained simply by making the websites accessible. Disney could and will make more money.

    Now do I think that Disney or any company should loose a law suite like that… the answer is No! I beleive in free enterprize. Nevertheless, it should be the right of disabled folks to create a law suite in order to get their attention. Hopefully, Disney will see this as an opprotunity to make some money and not an opprotunity to snub those with less fortune than most.

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