PLEASE NOTE: To protect your safety in response to the threats of COVID-19, we are offering our clients the ability to meet with us via telephone or through video conferencing through a number of digital platforms. Please call our office to discuss your options.

Are vaccine signup websites violating disability rights?

A recent investigation by Kaiser Health News found that many federal, state and local websites offering information about and registrations for COVID-19 vaccines violate disability laws, especially when it comes to people with visual disabilities.

People who require special software to read internet pages have been locked out of vital information about COVID and have been unable to sign up for the vaccines. This includes people who are blind or visually impaired, and there are at least 7.6 million U.S. adults with visual disabilities.

Kaiser Health News gathered COVID vaccine websites from all 50 states and Washington, D.C. It then had WebAIM, a nonprofit web accessibility organization, check those websites for compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and related laws. Of the 94 websites checked, nearly all had accessibility issues. That is problematic because the websites included general information about the vaccine, lists of vaccination providers and registration forms.

People with serious visual impairments are at special risk of contracting COVID-19 because they often can’t engage in social distancing.

Blind residents were completely unable to register for a vaccine without help in at least seven states. When a phone alternative was available, it was often beset with long hold times and other problems.

The problems extended even to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Vaccine Administration Management System, which some states and counties use. The website is inaccessible to blind users.

A spokesperson for the CDC told the Los Angeles Times in an email that the Vaccine Administration Management System does comply with federal disability accessibility laws. Yet people on the ground are reporting problems at every level.

One blind user, a 72-year old disability outreach director who also has a hearing impairment, found that she was unable to sign up at the CDC’s system, which her county uses. She tried screen-reading technology, but even then, the drop-down menu for counties wouldn’t let her pull up her county. She needed a colleague to help her.

Specific issues with the websites, WebAIM found, included inadequate contrast between the page’s background and the words, images without alternative text to explain what they show, and forms, including vaccination registration forms, that don’t work with screen readers. These are basic accessibility issues with simple, straightforward fixes, in most cases.

People with disabilities can’t always rely on a friend or colleague to handle website difficulties for them, and they shouldn’t have to. If the websites don’t improve soon, people with disabilities could be essentially locked out of the vaccine process. Lawsuits are likely.

At Leigh Law Group, we represent people with disabilities in accessibility lawsuits and other legal matters.