The Legal Requirement
Digital accessibility compliance has been a legal requirement for public institutions, including universities, since 1998 under Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act. Since then, WCAG Level AA guidelines have evolved to become the new accepted standard.
A New, Far-Reaching Decision
In January 2019, the U.S. Supreme Court effectively upheld the decision from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals that organizations can be sued for inaccessible digital content in the case of Robles v. Domino's Pizza, LLC.
USC and the U.S. Office of Civil Rights
In 2019, the University of South Carolina closed a case with the United States Office of Civil Rights requiring remediation of accessibility issues found in university sites and online services. The case remains closed only while a plan is in action to make accessibility an inherent part of every digital experience at the university.
What Happens if We Do Nothing?
The repercussions for ignoring digital accessibility compliance are serious and would affect everyone at the university.
High Risk of Lawsuit
Individual and Class-Action Lawsuits: Litigators are issuing individual and class-action lawsuits against universities and other public institutions every day for non-compliance with digital accessibility guidelines.
U.S. Office of Civil Rights Case: Cases opened by the U.S. Office of Civil rights for accessibility non-compliance require immediate response and will not be closed until the Office is satisfied that significant digital accessibility action is being taken through remediation of critical issues and creation of a long-term plan.
The Office of Civil Rights opened such a case against the University of South Carolina in 2018. Through our digital accessibility program, we were able to show our commitment to a more accessible and inclusive campus to close the case by 2019. It can be reopened at any time.
Court Fees, Settlements and Potential Loss of Federal Funding
Settlements: Settlements for accessibility cases against universities have ranged from $100,000 to more than $8 million, depending on the severity of the issue and the number of students or other university community members affected by it. That does not include fees paid to attorneys.
Loss of Federal Funding: The outcome of an Office of Civil Rights case where digital accessibility issues are not addressed can include the revoking of the university's federal funds including:
- Grant money
- Research funds
- Scholarship funds
Fix Digital Accessibility Issues Anyway
After settlement, the universities who have been sued were required to fix their digital accessibility issues anyway. They might as well have done it right in the first place.