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Obama Administration Taking Legal Action Over...Another Website's Problems


"An inaccessible website can also mean a business loses a customer it never knew it had.”

Attorney General Eric Holder meets with former federal inmates who have completed the Supervision to Aid Re-entry (STAR) program Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2013, at the U.S. Courthouse in Philadelphia. Holder is on a planned three-city tour to promote the need for innovative federal programs that help ex-offenders confront their return to society after years in prison. AP

After weeks of headlines about the pitiful user experience on healthcare.gov, the Obama administration is taking legal action over a private company's website failings.

Attorney General Eric Holder's Justice Department is taking legal action over H&R Block's website. (AP)

H&R Block, the nation's largest tax preparation company, allegedly has a website that can't be used by the blind, deaf or others with disabilities, despite widely used technology allowing audio and captioning, according to the Justice Department.

“The web revolutionizes our lives daily and maximizes our independence in many areas,” said Jocelyn Samuels, acting assistant attorney general for the Justice Department's 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.”

It's an entirely separate matter from the flawed healthcare.gov, the website that was supposed to allow people to access the Obamacare insurance exchanges but has instead been plagued by technical problems. Unlike the charge against the H&R Block site, healthcare.gov was inaccessible for many people across the board.

The Justice Department announced Monday it filed a motion to intervene in a lawsuit National Federation of the Blind v. HRB Digital in U.S. District Court in Boston.

The government agrees with NFB that the tax preparer violated Title III of the American with Disabilities Act. Title three 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, and to take necessary steps to ensure those with disabilities are not excluded from the public accommodation.

H&R Block responded to TheBlaze inquiry with caution.

“Because this is ongoing litigation, we are unable to comment on the specifics of this case,” H&R Block spokesman Gene King told TheBlaze. “H&R Block is firmly committed, however, to compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. As part of this commitment, we continually strive to make our products and services accessible to all individuals.”

While assistive technologies such as screen reader software, audio captioning and keyboard navigation have been developed for use by websites, H&R Block's site "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 Justice Department said in a statement.

The Justice Department filing seeks a court order to ensure the tax services offered through H&R Block are equally accessible to people with disabilities. The department is also seeking monetary damages for aggrieved individuals with disabilities, including two named plaintiffs, and a civil penalty to vindicate the public interest.


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