On March 6, 2014, the National Federation of the Blind and the United States Department of Justice (“DOJ”), as a plaintiff-intervenor, entered into a consent decree with HRB Digital LLC and HRB Tax Group, Inc. (collectively, “H&R Block” or “Defendants”) to remedy alleged violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (“ADA”), as asserted in the lawsuit National Federation of the Blind et al. v. HRB Digital LLC et al., No. 1:13-cv-10799-GAO (D. Mass. filed April 8, 2013).  Specifically, plaintiffs alleged that H&R Block’s Web site and other online applications and content contained barriers that prevented full and equal use by individuals with vision, hearing, and physical disabilities by being incompatible with certain technology, including screen reader software and keyboard navigation and captioning, utilized by persons with disabilities to access the Internet.  The consent decree was approved and entered by the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts on March 24, 2014.

DOJ’s Complaint in Intervention, asserted that the inaccessibility of H&R Block’s Web site prevented individuals with disabilities from taking advantage of the online services and features provided by Defendants, including preparing and filing taxes online, downloading tax preparation software, and locating tax professionals.  Under the terms of the five-year consent decree, H&R Block’s Web site, Online Tax Preparation Product, mobile applications, and any third-party plug-ins or content must be made to conform to the World Wide Web Consortium’s (“W3C”) Web Content Accessibility Guidelines version 2.0 Level AA (“WCAG 2.0 AA”).  WCAG 2.0 was developed by the W3C (an international community that develops open standards to ensure the long-term growth of the Web) to teach Web site developers how to make the content of their Web sites more accessible to individuals with disabilities.

Specifically, the H&R Block Web site and Online Tax Preparation Product must be made accessible under WCAG 2.0 AA for the start of the next tax filing term on January 1, 2015, with additional accessibility deadlines over the following years of the decree for the other covered applications and content.  Defendants have also agreed to a number of additional requirements, including:

  • Designating a Web Accessibility Coordinator responsible for overseeing H&R Block’s implementation of the terms of the Consent Decree, and a Web Accessibility Committee charged with monitoring and maintaining conformance of the Web site, Online Tax Preparation Product, and mobile applications with WCAG 2.0 AA;
  • Adopting and publically distributing a Web accessibility policy;
  • Initiating training on accessible design for its Web content personnel and customer assistance training for handling complaints or requests for assistance from individuals with disabilities encountering difficulties using the Web site, Online Tax Preparation Product, and mobile applications;
  • Soliciting Web accessibility feedback from the public, including by providing a prominent link off of H&R Block’s main Web page;
  • Evaluating employee and contractor performance based on successful accessible Web programming;
  • Conducting regular automated and user group testing; and
  • Hiring an approved outside consultant to prepare annual independent evaluations of H&R Block’s online accessibility.

The Consent Decree further contains monetary relief and civil penalties, as well as reporting and enforcement provisions.