Which IT Accessibility Laws Affect Your Industry the Most?

August 26, 2016 BY PATRICK LOFTUS
Updated: June 3, 2019


As some recent lawsuits have revealed, different IT accessibility laws affect certain industries more than others.

We recently conducted a webinar with Owen Edwards, Senior Accessibility Consultant at SSB BART Group, and Lily Bond of 3Play Media, which focused on how recent lawsuits impact video and IT accessibility requirements. Based on that presentation, we’ve gone ahead and broken down exactly which US laws are most likely to affect organizations associated with various industries so that those general requirements are a little easier to understand.

For a more interactive experience, you can also take our quiz to find out which web accessibility and closed captioning laws apply to you!

Online Video

Key Legislation

  • Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

Because the ADA was introduced in 1990, before online video and the internet become an integral part of everyday life, places of public accommodation were limited to physical buildings and structures. However, recent case law has increasingly expanded that definition to include online content.

In 2010, Netflix was sued by the National Association of the Deaf (NAD) for not providing closed captions for most of its “watch-instantly” movies and TV shows streamed on the internet.

The ultimate ruling was that Netflix’s business fell under Title III of the ADA because their online video streaming platform qualified as a place of public accommodation, just like a movie theater would.

Corporate/Enterprise Video

In late 2014, FedEx was sued for failing to provide American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters or closed captions for employee training videos, and for refusing to provide necessary modifications to sound-sensitive equipment in the workplace for their numerous deaf and hard of hearing employees.

In 2006, Target was also sued by the National Federation for the Blind (NFB) because their popular retail website was then inaccessible to blind online-shoppers. Retail spaces, and therefore retail websites, are listed in the ADA as “places of public accommodation.” Target settled the case and made their site accessible to blind users as a result.


Key Legislation

  • Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
  • 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA)

In 2012, Redbox Automated Retail LLC was sued by Lighthouse for the Blind, and other individuals, for the inaccessible touchscreens on their DVD dispenser kiosks.

Under Title III of the ADA, these kiosks are considered places of public accommodation. Additionally, California’s Civil Rights and Disabled Persons laws prevent discrimination against disabled people who use certain private facilities.

Before the lawsuit, blind/low vision customers who wanted to purchase DVDs to watch alone or with their families were denied access to these machines due to the lack of aural cues on the touchscreen. Redbox settled the case in 2014 by agreeing to modify all of their kiosks in California to include non-visual accessibility features, in addition to paying $1.2 million in damages.

The CVAA extends the powers of the FCC to only a specific category of online video. But, it affects many more organizations than just video streaming services like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon. According to this law, any video content that your organization disseminates, or puts on the internet, that previously aired on US television (including video clips and montages), must include high-quality closed captioning.


Religious broadcasters are required to add closed captions to their video content. Faith broadcasters must follow the same FCC accessibility laws as other media publishers. If they can prove economic hardship prevents them from captioning their video content, however, they can be exempt.

Education and eLearning

Key Legislation

  • Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
  • Title III Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
  • Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act
  • Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act

Public Institutions

Both the Office of Civil Rights and the Department of Justice have been very aggressively pursuing public schools and universities over the accessibility of their IT and online content recently. At least 15 of those pursuits currently have lawsuits or settlements in place. Most of these complaints and lawsuits invoke Section 504 and 508 of the Rehabilitation Act because they involve federally funded institutions.

The OCR filed a complaint against the University of Montana in 2012 for a number of inaccessible IT violations including videos that lacked closed captions. The South Carolina Technical College System received a similar complaint from the OCR for videos without captions and for using an inaccessible media player. Both of these cases resulted in the institution taking corrective action to make their IT accessible to its students with disabilities.

Private Institutions

Private institutions must adhere to ADA regulations that require certain web and video content to be accurate. They are not required to follow Section 504 and 508 guidelines if they do not directly receive federal funding. However, some argue that since individual states fund IT programs at private institutions, and considering states receive federal funding through the Assistive Technology Act, private institutions are indirectly required to make their IT accessible through the Rehabilitation Act.

The current landmark lawsuit that may lead to case law which could really clear up these legal ambiguities is the NAD vs MIT/Harvard case. The upcoming Section 508 Refresh will also help shed some light on how exactly public and private schools are expected to address IT accessibility from a federal law perspective.


Key Legislation

  • Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act
  • Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act
  • Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

Federal entities and offices of all kinds, institutions that receive federal funding or grants, and of course, any place of public accommodation (publicly or privately owned) are required to make all of their communications and digital content accessible to people with disabilities. Title II of the ADA extends the requirements of Section 504 to all state and local government activities regardless of whether or not these entities receive federal funding.

Visit our Web Accessibility & Closed Captioning Laws page to learn more about federal, state, and international web accessibility and closed captioning laws.

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