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Accessibility Advocates Harass Web Businesses, Disregard Autonomy

Accessibility Advocates Harass Web Businesses, Disregard Autonomy

2 Mins
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March 27, 2013

Last summer, I noted that a federal judge had allowed a case against Netflix for not captioning all its movies to proceed. Now the Wall Street Journal reports that that case resulted in a settlement in which Netflix agreed to provide, by next year, captions for every movie it streams.

In another settlement, Target established a $6 million fund to pay off people who had trouble using its website because they were disabled.

And advocates for accessibility continue to go after a variety of companies. The Department of Justice may soon issue regulations on website accessibility. Jared Smith, an accessibility consultant, even urges businesses to use simple language for the intellectually disabled . (I wonder whether he’ll evaluate the accessibility of DOJ’s new regulations.)

A lawyer for the National Federation of the Blind argues that accessibility lawsuits are actually good for defendants: “The market share you gain is more than the costs of making your site accessible.”

But if it’s really in the interests of an online company to make its website accessible to the blind and deaf, it’s hard to understand why accessibility advocates can’t get they want simply by making the business case. Surely, if it’s rational to make a certain change in order to attract more business, proving that should be enough to convince most businesses. If it isn’t—if accessibility advocates can only get what they want by threatening litigation—that’s evidence that the accessibility features they want don’t produce enough value to be worth what they cost.

In any event, advocates for the disabled—who are often the victims of meddlers who interfere with their lives and property "for their own good"—ought to understand the value of autonomy, of determining for yourself what is in your interests and pursuing it. That value is important for all individuals, disabled or not, and in business or not. And diminishing it for any of us makes it harder to defend—for any of us.