I have often been personally and professionally critical of the National Federation of the Blind, its policies and its method of advocacy. I suspect I will do so again. But, the only way for any of that criticism to be meaningful or impactful is if it is balanced with credit when earned. I am very, very pleased to say that this year’s convention resolutions have presented an opportunity for me to say positive things about the organization, specifically Resolution 2019-09. The resolution reads:
WHEREAS, the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) is a comprehensive civil rights law that prohibits discrimination based on disability; and
WHEREAS, to assist Americans with disabilities in asserting our rights under the ADA, Congress included a private right of action, which has assisted Americans with disabilities to secure landmark victories that have opened doors in employment, education, commerce, and other arenas; and
WHEREAS, under Department of Justice interpretation and court rulings, ADA Title III applies not only to physical places of public accommodation but also to their websites; and
WHEREAS, many websites are inaccessible to blind people who use screen readers to access digital content and to other people with disabilities; and
WHEREAS, a small group of plaintiffs and attorneys are exploiting the situation by filing dozens, occasionally hundreds, of lawsuits all at once or in rapid succession; and
WHEREAS, rather than acknowledging that website inaccessibility is a real and growing problem, some business groups and media outlets have focused on this behavior as evidence that the ADA is merely a tool for greedy lawyers to extort quick cash settlements from businesses; and
WHEREAS, this largely misplaced blame for ADA lawsuits has led to the introduction, and in some cases enactment, of state legislation that places onerous burdens on people and organizations who wish to bring legitimate complaints under the ADA, as well as attempts to enact federal legislation that would have the same effect; and
WHEREAS, even if litigants act in good faith and with noble intentions, blanketing a geographic area or business type with lawsuits often does not meaningfully advance the cause of accessibility because the litigants may lack the resources or the commitment to investigate each lawsuit thoroughly, and many lawsuits brought in this way are settled quickly and confidentially, thereby failing to hold public accommodations accountable for true progress toward making their websites accessible: Now, therefore
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this eleventh day of July, 2019, in the City of Las Vegas, Nevada, that this organization urge members of the legal community to engage in responsible, ethical, and transparent behavior when pursuing ADA litigation, including contacting targeted entities to try to resolve accessibility issues without litigation where possible and appropriate and to draw up public settlement agreements that outline the specific steps to be taken by an entity to achieve accessibility and the anticipated timeline for those steps to be completed; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization reaffirm its opposition to any legislation, state or federal, that seeks to shift the burden of compliance from the entities to people with disabilities affected by noncompliance; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization continue to work collaboratively with the policymaking, legal, business, and web development communities to advance accessibility, while not hesitating to commence litigation if needed.
The only thing I could think to add to this resolution would be a clause urging people with disabilities to act ethically and responsibly regarding aDA litigation. There’s quite a cottage industry of blind people who are all too willing to participate in the unethical practices of law firms like the ones engaging in the unethical behavior highlighted here. I understand that there are several reasons for the participation of blind people, and I think there needs to be an open, honest discussion within our community around all of this. So maybe my addition should be a resolution for next year. For now though, I think the NFB deserves a lot of credit for bringing this matter up as a policy suggestion for the organization, and I really do hope it passes. Good job to whichever member wrote this, and to the organization as a whole for not dismissing it.