Florida Cities Move to Rework Websites After ADA Lawsuit

After a Daytona Beach man filed an accessibility lawsuit against Flagler County, cities in neighboring Volusia County are making sure their own websites comply with Americans with Disabilities Act.

by Katie Kustura, The News-Journal / March 18, 2019
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(TNS) — Florida's cities and counties have spent countless dollars to make sure buildings, parks and other frequented places are accessible to all residents and visitors since the Americans with Disabilities Act passed in 1990.

But nearly 30 years later, with the vast majority of government information available on the internet, lawsuits are on the rise as many communities are playing catch-up in ensuring their government websites are just as accessible as other services.

Cities in Volusia County are working to make their websites more accessible to people with visual or hearing impairments after Flagler County agreed to settle for $15,000 a lawsuit that claimed its website violates the Americans with Disabilities Act because it wasn't usable for the visually impaired.

Joel Price, of Daytona Beach, filed the suit in October. Price's lawsuit stated that screen reader software didn't work with a portable document format, or PDF, and much of the website's content was in PDF format.

It's not unusual for clients of Daytona Beach's Center for the Visually Impaired, 1187 Dunn Ave., to run into this issue, said Christopher Dixon, a program manager at the center.

"It would be great to see the entire web available to anybody who wants to access it," Dixon said. "Any steps in that direction would be great."

During a recent Deltona City Commission meeting, staff members presented UserWay, the new accessibility widget for the website. Features include keyboard navigation, a page reader, bigger text, bigger cursor and highlighted links. The free add-on, which includes a link for users to make donations, allows visitors to alter the saturation and contrast as well as change the font style.

"This enhances the experience and increases compliance with ADA and Section 508 requirements," Katherine Kyp, planning coordinator, told the commission.

Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 was amended in 1998 by then-President Bill Clinton to strengthen requirements in the federal sector for access to electronic information.

Deltona Mayor Heidi Herzberg said the use of UserWay is just one step the city is taking to be more accessible and more compliant.

"We definitely are going to work every which way we can to come into compliance," Herzberg said in a phone interview.

Deltona has formed an ADA Committee and is looking into how to make all of the city's documents and media accessible by all people, Lee Lopez, city spokesman, said.

The city also is looking to get closed captioning services for Deltona TV, Herzberg said.

Deltona city attorney Marsha Segal-George said during a recent meeting that multiple cities, to avoid potential lawsuits, were taking documents and streaming services down until they're able to come into compliance.

"It's very complicated to try and get all of our systems to try to be totally acceptable for disabled folks who need a different way of accessing," Segal-George said. "In that process, we're not removing anything from the website."

DeBary and other cities in Central Florida have removed PDF files to avoid potential lawsuits like the one filed by Price.

On March 6, the DeBary City Council unanimously approved a budget amendment of $25,000 to bring the city's website into compliance. Basic information will continue to be available, but people searching for certain public documents will need to call or visit City Hall for access.

Once officials decide on the software program to use, converting all of the city's documents may take several months, Eric Frankton, DeBary's information technology director, said.

Dixon said the Center for the Visually Impaired recommends that website development follow guidelines by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C).

"I think, nowadays, websites are so visually based," Dixon said. "But you can still have a visually-appealing website that is W3C compliant."

Volusia County "regularly monitors its sites to ensure they meet the requirements of Title II of the Rehabilitation Act (29 U.S.C. 794d), as amended in 1998 and the World Wide Web Consortium, Web Contact Accessibility Guidelines," according to the county's ADA Notice.

Daytona Beach is working on making its website fully compliant, its accessibility section indicates.

"Due to the city's integration with third-party providers, areas within, and linked from the site, remain beyond our control. Until the integration with these third-party providers is resolved, the city can only achieve a partial level of conformance according to Web Content Accessibility Guidelines," the website states.

The city's website also provides links to PDF readers.

©2019 The News-Journal, Daytona Beach, Fla. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.