But its recent settlement, and the path that the opposing parties took to get there, could do more for digital accessibility than many of the cases that came before it, some advocates say.
The sides used so-called structured negotiations—a strategy in which parties agree to cooperate with one another, usually without a lawsuit on file—that resulted in a settlement without further litigation in court. They also made public the details of their agreement, including a commitment by ADP not to rely entirely on automation to make its products accessible.
“We have constructively engaged ADP, and this is going to result in a work environment that blind people anywhere who use ADP services can benefit from the same access as their sighted peers,” said Bryan Bashin, chief executive of LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired, the nonprofit organization that filed the lawsuit.
Many accessibility lawsuits are settled under terms that are kept confidential. The ADP agreement provides a framework that other companies can use, said Meredith Weaver, a lead attorney at Disability Rights Advocates, the firm that represented the plaintiffs.
“This is one of the most important ways to facilitate that and to reach a resolution that really moves the ball forward for everyone,” Ms. Weaver said.
LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired sued ADP in 2020, alleging that blind and low-vision Lighthouse employees couldn’t use ADP’s software for tasks such as submitting time off requests and signing up for healthcare insurance, according to court documents.
The parties entered a structured negotiations agreement in January 2021 and announced their settlement last month.
As part of the agreement, ADP said it will work with a web accessibility expert to enhance the accessibility of its products and committed to solve certain problems with its website and app for benefit enrollment by March 31, 2022.
Employees and customer-service agents will also receive supplemental training to assist customers who use screen readers.
In addition, ADP agreed not to use solutions such as web-accessibility overlays, software tools that attempt to fix accessibility issues automatically but can hinder other assistive technologies that many people with disabilities use. Some overlays can interrupt the way assistive technologies such as screen readers navigate a webpage, for example, and can require people to customize their experience for every website.
“Evolving our approach to accessibility involves increasing the amount of training and testing we perform in-house earlier in the development cycle and leveraging an industry-leading accessibility partner to perform independent testing and support,” said an ADP spokeswoman. “Through this, we believe we can deliver accessible solutions in a more efficient and scalable way, and additional tools such as overlays will not be used.”
Companies use overlays as a way to address accessibility problems without providing other solutions to those issues that automation cannot fix, accessibility advocates say. As a result, companies that use these products are increasingly being sued for creating an additional barrier to using a website, according to UsableNet Inc., a technology firm that offers accessibility-compliance technology and services.
“The overlays don’t create inclusion,” said
a disability-rights lawyer known for developing and using structured negotiations.
More than 4,000 digital-accessibility lawsuits were filed in the U.S. last year, up from 3,503 in 2020, UsableNet said. Many of the lawsuits allege violations of either the federal Americans With Disabilities Act or California’s Unruh Civil Rights Act.
a provider of web-accessibility services and automation, has worked with ADP since 2015 and will continue to do so, it said. Automation can help a website start to become accessible, but developers need to recognize its limits, said
chief executive of AudioEye.
“Some sites will not be fully accessible with automation alone,” Mr. Moradi said.
The agreement between ADP and LightHouse and the transparency of their negotiations will potentially lead to other business-to-business companies addressing accessibility problems of their own, accessibility researchers say. Companies are expected to spend $10 billion dollars this year on design vendors and service providers that provide accessible solutions, according to
Forrester Research Inc.,
a research firm.
“This should serve as a reminder to all businesses to make accessibility a priority when purchasing technology so all their employees, including those with disabilities, can do their jobs effectively,” said
a principal analyst for Forrester.
Write to Ann-Marie Alcántara at ann-marie.alcántara@wsj.com
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