USDOJ Seeks to Intervene in Lawsuit Alleging H&R Block’s Tax Preparation Website is Inaccessible to Persons with Disabilities
Americas, November 26 2013
WASHINGTON, DC: The Civil Rights Division and U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz announced yesterday that they have moved to intervene in National Federation of the Blind et al v. HRB Digital LLC et al, a private lawsuit alleging disability discrimination by HRB Digital LLC and HRB Tax Group Inc., subsidiaries of H&R Block Inc. In the memorandum and proffered complaint filed by the United States in support of its motion to intervene, the United States alleges that the H&R Block companies discriminate against individuals with disabilities and that their website, www.hrblock.com , is being operated in violation of Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), notwithstanding well-established and readily available guidelines for delivering web content in an accessible manner. The motion, attached complaint in intervention and supporting memorandum were filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts’ Boston Division.
As alleged in the filings today, H&R Block is one of the largest tax return preparers in the United States. Its companies offer a wide range of services through www.hrblock.com , including professional and do-it-yourself tax preparation, instructional videos, office location information, interactive live video conference and chat with tax professionals, hybrid online and in-store services and electronic filing. Their website, however, is not accessible to many individuals with disabilities and prevents some people with disabilities from completing even the most basic activities on the site.
The filings further state that many individuals with disabilities, including, among others, people who are blind, deaf or have physical disabilities with an impact on manual dexterity, use computers and the Internet with the help of assistive technologies. For example, screen reader software makes audible information that is otherwise presented visually on a computer screen; captioning translates video narration and sound into text; and keyboard navigation allows keyboard input rather than a mouse to navigate a website for individuals with visual, hearing or manual dexterity disabilities. Such technologies have been widely used for some time and there are readily available, well-established, consensus-based guidelines – the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 – for making web content accessible to individuals with disabilities.
The complaint in intervention seeks a court order that would ensure that tax services offered through www.hrblock.com are fully and equally accessible to individuals with disabilities. The department also seeks an award of monetary damages for aggrieved individuals, including the two named plaintiffs and a civil penalty to vindicate the public interest.
“The web revolutionizes our lives daily and maximizes our independence in many areas,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Jocelyn Samuels for the Civil Rights Division. “Inaccessible websites of public accommodations are not simply an inconvenience to individuals with disabilities – they deny persons with disabilities access to basic goods and services that people without disabilities take advantage of every day. An inaccessible website can also mean a business loses a customer it never knew it had.”
“We are building an electronic world in which we ever-increasingly live,” said U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz for the District of Massachusetts. “All benefit when, as the ADA requires, we build our online businesses, schools and other public spaces in a manner equally accessible to all.”
Title III of the ADA prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability by public accommodations in the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages and accommodations. It also requires public accommodations to take necessary steps to ensure individuals with disabilities are not excluded, denied services, segregated or otherwise treated differently because of the absence of auxiliary aids and services, such as accurate captioning of audible materials and labeling of visual materials.
To find out more about federal disability rights laws, call the department’s toll-free ADA information line at 800-514-0301 or 800-514-0383 (TDD) or access its ADA website at www.ada.gov .