Rite Aid to make vaccine sign-up site accessible after DOJ intervenes

Rite Aid has reached a settlement agreement with the Department of Justice (DOJ) to make its COVID-19 vaccine registration portal accessible for people with disabilities.

The portal, which allows customers to get information about COVID-19 vaccines and schedule vaccination appointments online, posed difficulties for some individuals with disabilities, including those with screen readers or who have trouble using a mouse, according to the DOJ.

The DOJ said in a release Monday that the site’s calendar didn’t show screen reader users any available appointment times, and those who use the tab key instead of a mouse couldn’t complete the required consent form.

The agreement also alleged the site included some text and links with low color contrast, introducing difficulties for individuals with low vision.

“Equal access to healthcare is one of the most important rights guaranteed by the Americans with Disabilities Act,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clark of the Justice Department’s civil rights division. “As the nation continues its response to the COVID-19 pandemic—through booster shots, vaccinations for children under 12 and ongoing outreach to those still in need of initial doses—people with disabilities must be able to schedule potentially lifesaving vaccine appointments as easily as people without disabilities can.”

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Rite Aid said it had previously hired an external website accessibility consultant and used an automated accessibility scanning tool, according to the settlement agreement.

The drugstore chain agreed, among other requirements, to make content about the COVID-19 vaccine accessible according to voluntary industry guidelines for website accessibility. The company also agreed to regularly test its website against these standards and to fix any accessibility barriers within 15 days of identifying them.

According to many industry groups, remote care offerings like telehealth provide more equitable care, and that has pushed organizations to advocate for telehealth’s expansion during the pandemic to be made permanent.

But remote healthcare can be inaccessible for people with disabilities, too, without proper implementation.

“As technology increases, the internet is where people gain access to information about COVID-19 vaccines and schedule a vaccination appointment,” said acting U.S. Attorney Bruce Brandler for the Middle District of Pennsylvania in a statement. “Individuals with disabilities, including those with visual impairments and those who cannot use a mouse, must be given the same access to that information and the ease of scheduling appointments online. Since the beginning of the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, private companies have partnered with the United States. Today, with the help of Rite Aid, we make great strides in that continuing partnership by ensuring individuals with disabilities have the ability to schedule a COVID-19 vaccination independently and privately.”

By entering into the settlement agreement, Rite Aid denied having violated the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The settlement was facilitated by the DOJ and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Pennsylvania.