The Americans with Disabilities Act

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Maximum Accessibility: Making Your Web Site More Usable for Everyone
By John M. Slatin,, Sharron Rush
Table of Contents
Chapter 3.  Accessibility in Law and Policy


On July 26, 1990, Congress passed the landmark Americans with Disabilities Act "to establish a clear and comprehensive prohibition of discrimination on the basis of disability." [3] This comprehensive legislation extended the promise of equal treatment for people with disabilities into the private arena. Whereas the Rehabilitation Act applies to federal government agencies and those that receive federal funds, the ADA applies to all places of public accommodation, to most employers, and to all Title II entities that deliver government services.

[3] From the text of the ADA legislation, accessed May 17, 2002, at http://www.usdoj.gov/crt/ada/pubs/ada.txt.

Among the findings that Congress cited in passing the ADA were the historical isolation and segregation of people with disabilities and the fact that, unlike other victims of discrimination, they "have often had no legal recourse to redress such discrimination." [4] The ADA was intended and has become the basis for such legal recourse. It has had profound results in promoting the concepts of greater equality of opportunity, full participation, independent living, and economic self-sufficiency for people with disabilities. We will see that once again, however, the promise of equality contained in this historic Act is still in the process of being fully realized.

[4] From the text of the ADA legislation, accessed May 17, 2002, at http://www.usdoj.gov/crt/ada/pubs/ada.txt.

Discrimination Defined and Prohibited

The ADA defines a person with a disability as someone who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a person who has a record of such impairment, or a person who is regarded as having such impairment. For detailed information about the history and impact of this historic Act, access the ADA home page at http://www.usdoj.gov/crt/ada/adahom1.htm. But for now, let's consider the four major sections of the ADA and how they might apply to the Internet.

ADA Title I, Employment

Title I of the ADA prohibits employers of more than 15 workers from discriminating against people with disabilities. It requires that employers provide equal access to all employment privileges, including hiring, promotion, training, compensation, social activities, and others. It requires that employers provide "reasonable accommodation," a concept that has been subject to interpretation by the courts ever since.

For example, suppose a software company employs a computer engineer who is blind. The employee has been a productive member of a team that performs programming functions in a mainframe environment. As the company begins to move more of their staff communications and project management to their internal Web site, what degree of accommodation does the law require them to make for the blind employee?

Theoretically, and within the letter of the law, the company could make intranet-based employee communications available by other means, including documents accessible to screen readers and/or Braille printouts. But what an unnecessary and inefficient duplication of effort! Why not design the employee interface in an accessible fashion that serves everyone equally? In this way, no separate accommodation is needed. Throughout this book, you will see demonstrations that accessible design is inclusive by its nature and precludes the necessity for cumbersome alternative "accommodations."

ADA Title II, State and Local Government Activities

This section of the ADA requires that all government services be made available to people with disabilities regardless of the size of the entity or the receipt of federal funding.

As more government information and services are provided via the Internet, this provision has become a driving force in the development of regulations that affect Web design. Government jobs as well as public meetings and regulatory hearings are often posted to the Internet. In order to fully participate as citizens, it is clear that people with disabilities must be provided with full access to this critical information.

ADA Title III, Public Accommodation

Title III applies to public accommodation and requires that all public spaces be designed, constructed, and altered in compliance with accessibility standards established by the U.S. Access Board. City buses and other public transit are included in the legislative definition of public spaces and were therefore required to be made accessible to people with disabilities.

Among the displays of the Smithsonian exhibit on the history of the disability rights movement was a photograph taken during public protests that led to passage of the ADA. The picture showed that one of the protestors had affixed a sign to his wheelchair stating, "I can't even get to the BACK of the bus." Title III set accessibility standards for purchasing new equipment and timelines for retrofitting older vehicles. Physical access to transportation has been much improved as a result. The fact that we find curbcuts and access ramps in most public buildings is a direct result of this legislation. As we will learn in Chapter 5, however, access to information about transportation services has also become an issue as the Internet becomes a forum for posting updates and schedule changes. Public transit authorities usually rely on federal funding to some degree, so they are becoming more aware of their obligation to provide all services in accessible formats. For someone who is blind, public transportation is more than a convenience it is often the only way to travel to and from a job. Rather than referring blind passengers to a phone line, where they may be put on hold for an operator or may be able to get information only during limited office hours, it makes the most sense to assure that online information, including schedule and fee tables, is fully accessible.

The National Federation of the Blind (NFB) also cited the mandates of Title III when it sued for improved Internet access in 1999. The NFB based its case on the assumption that the Internet is public space and therefore subject to the requirement, under Title III, to accommodate the needs of people with disabilities. We will examine the NFB's lawsuit against America Online (AOL) in greater detail later in the chapter.

ADA Title IV, Telecommunications

Title IV addresses telephone and television access for people with hearing and speech disabilities. It requires that common carriers (such as telephone companies) maintain interstate and intrastate telecommunications relay service (TRS) 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. TRS enables callers with hearing and speech disabilities who use telecommunications devices for the deaf (TDDs), which are also known as teletypewriters (TTYs), and callers who use voice telephones to communicate with each other through a third-party communications assistant.

Such services can make a huge difference in the lives of people who are deaf or hard of hearing and the hearing people with whom they communicate. According to Ed Bosson, Relay Administrator for the Texas Public Utilities Commission:

It is heartening to know that telecommunications relay service (TRS) continues to evolve into [a] better and innovative service. It is as it should be. I take pride in the fact that Texas [offers] Texas Video Interpreting Service (TVIS). Relay Texas offers wonderful services such as Voice Over (VCO), Speech to Speech (STS), Caller ID, and . . . [a] horde of new upcoming ideas. . . . We all are equal in human terms[;] thus we should also be entitled to all new and innovative ideas. [Bosson 2002]


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    Maximum Accessibility(c) Making Your Web Site More Usable for Everyone
    Maximum Accessibility: Making Your Web Site More Usable for Everyone: Making Your Web Site More Usable for Everyone
    ISBN: 0201774224
    EAN: 2147483647
    Year: 2002
    Pages: 128

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