Understanding Alternative Conforming Versions and the Air Carrier Access Act (ACCA)

By Jason Taylor on Dec 31, 2018
Topics: Web Accessibility


This blog outlines the facts around when Alternative Conforming Version (ACV) can be used and clarifies how the DOT deviated from the WCAG with the need to prove undue-burden in order to use an ACV under the ACAA.

A recent blog from Seyfarth Shaw, a leading ADA defense law firm, outlined that the DOT had fined SAS Airlines for providing a WCAG Alternative Conforming View of their old site in 2016 using UsableNet Assistive while they worked (again with UsableNet) to ensure the new site they were building was fully Accessible. 

Unlike other legislation and legal rulings in other industries, the DOT’s update to the Air Carrier Access Act deviates from the standard WCAG conformance levels.   Where WCAG allows for ACV’s, the ACAA states that if an airline needs to use an ACV, they need to show undue-burden. It is important to note that the DOT’s ACAA does not apply to other industries.

Seyfarth Shaw points out, SAS had a typical dilemma of having an existing in-accessible website and a new site in development that was not going to be live in time for the ACAA deadline.  As one part of an overall accessibility plan SAS turned to UsableNet Assistive to help in the short term and the article explains: 

"this solution is appealing to many businesses because it requires no coding changes to the primary website, no substantial commitment of internal company resources because it is implemented by the third party consultant, and can be implemented fairly quickly to provide immediate access for users with disabilities."

The second part of the plan was to use UsableNet expertise to make the new site accessible.  The new site is accessible and the ACV was retired as it was no longer needed after the new site as launched.

In our experience, UsableNet Assistive is one of the solutions needed in the broader market to provide support to people with disabilities while reducing the burden on companies that have challenges with complexity, legacy, timeline, and general lack of bandwidth in the digital space. Accessibility consultancy companies that offer no technical solutions tend to be biased towards only accepting the concept of re-coding the original web site which in many cases is expensive, takes a long time and is impractical. However, as a company with multiple options to make a site accessible, we have a more balanced view to finding the right solution for the right situation. 

For the record, UsableNet has always maintained that when building a web site you should make it fully accessible from the start, BUT where a site is already in use and complicated to make fully accessible by retrofitting, providing a fully conforming dynamic alternative version is an acceptable way to provide WCAG conformance (due to the very clear WCAG Conformance definition stated by the W3C on their web site).  Plus, it has the benefit of providing full accessibility, faster. This position is also confirmed via extensive testing of this solution with users of the disability community who are stakeholders in the outcome.

Back to the airlines - if UsableNet Assistive is used by an airline, we always inform them of their requirement to document “undue-burden” as stated in the ACAA. The fact that the DOT called out that providing accessibility "via separate view" would need to be supported with a claim of undue-burden, implies that they recognized this as an acceptable method to conform with WCAG, but the DOT have a bias towards that method of conformance.

One point that should be stressed to the general Airline industry around the ACAA is that from our experience in the SAS situation, the DOT has no public definition or process to argue “undue burden”, so Airlines such as SAS are at the mercy of what the DOT “feel” is undue burden. 

The SAS fine should also be a concern to airlines in general around the desire of the DOT to fine a company that had invested and was committed to a practical and sensible accessibility plan. The SAS position which they stated as "needing to provide a solution for the old existing web site as they launched a new web site" sounds pretty fair and logical. So the DOT fine punishes a company that is a friend to the disability community. 

Finally and maybe most importantly to the more general reader outside the airline industry, the DOT is a government organization that has re-defined and deviated from the WCAG as the base level of accessibility. This is counter to the directive by Congress to unify standards across accessibility legislation.  WCAG has become the de-facto standard for other organizations and legal challenges in every other industry. DOT’s position could add to a criticism that it is not clear what accessibility means and therefore difficult to comply with the ADA as it stands.  

At UsableNet, we continue to innovate to help companies make their digital experiences inclusive and accessible. The AQA accessibility testing and management platform that helps remediates the original code, is second to none.  UsableNet Assistive can now be deployed as a dynamic remediation of the original site (removing the separate site observation) while still maintaining the option to deploy as a dynamic alternative views. Both deployment solutions are fully WCAG conforming and provide companies with rapid, affordable solutions to ensure access to all abilities.

At UsableNet, we are laser focused on making the internet a place for all, and we strive to help companies understand and execute an effective approach to web accessibility through technology and expert services. 

Read more from Seyfarth Shaw here - https://www.adatitleiii.com/2018/12/airlines-provision-of-alternative-accessible-website-triggers-hefty-fine-under-the-air-carrier-access-act/

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