A number of laws have established precedence in issues of web accessibility. These laws continue to evolve and face legal challenges to establish benchmarks of web accessibility. Some laws related to web and information accessibility apply to just web sites and publications of the federal government. Others apply more broadly. Below are portions of the laws that may apply to web accessibility and higher education.
For an overview of why these apply, please visit: Accessible Electronic & Information Technology
A statement about non-discrimination against individuals with disabilities.
(a) Promulgation of rules and regulations
No otherwise qualified individual with a disability in the United States, as defined in section 706 (20) of this title, shall, solely by reason of his or her disability, be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance or under any program or activity conducted by any Executive agency or by the United States Postal Service.
(b) “Program or activity” defined
(2)(A) a college, university, or other postsecondary institution, or a public system of higher education
Accessibility requirements for federal departments and agencies regarding development, procurement, maintenance, or use of electronic and information technology.
When developing, procuring, maintaining, or using electronic and information technology, each Federal department or agency, including the United States Postal Service, shall ensure, unless an undue burden would be imposed on the department or agency, that the electronic and information technology allows, regardless of the type of medium of the technology–
(i) individuals with disabilities who are Federal employees to have access to and use of information and data that is comparable to the access to and use of the information and data by Federal employees who are not individuals with disabilities; and
(ii) individuals with disabilities who are members of the public seeking information or services from a Federal department or agency to have access to and use of information and data that is comparable to the access to and use of the information and data by such members of the public who are not individuals with disabilities.
Title II, Part A Prohibition Against Discrimination and Other Generally Applicable Provisions.
Definitions used in this subchapter:
(1) Public entity. The term “public entity” means any department, agency, special purpose district, or other instrumentality of a State or States or local government; and
(2) Discrimination. Subject to the provisions of this subchapter, no qualified individual with a disability shall, by reason of such disability, be excluded from participation in or be denied the benefits of services, programs, or activities of a public entity, or be subjected to discrimination by any such entity.
Title III, Public Accommodation.
The following private entities are considered public accommodations for purposes of this subchapter, if the operations of such entities affect commerce – a nursery, elementary, secondary, undergraduate, or postgraduate private school, or other place of education;
Prohibition of Discrimination by Public Accommodations.
General rule: No individual shall be discriminated against on the basis of disability in the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations of any place of public accommodation by any person who owns, leases (or leases to), or operates a place of public accommodation.
The Lawsuits and Settlements
The mention of lawsuits is not an attempt to scare web developers into creation of accessible web sites. Rather, the law suits are instructive because they bring to light important web accessibility issues. These include equal access, timely service and equivalent alternatives. Below is a synopsis of the most important cases to date.
This case may have set the precedent for many other cases to come. The appellate court ruled that “Title III prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in the provision of the “services * * * of any place of public accommodation.” In effect, they ruled that entities that operate a business on the internet are still subject to the ADA if their business is a place of entertainment, service establishment or place of recreation, among other places. The bottom line: Entities that do business on the web can’t discriminate against people with disabilities.
This agreement from the state of New York concerns the accessibility of Ramada.com and Priceline.com. Both were investigated by the state’s Attorney General. This public settlement, though it did not bring any new interpretation of the law, is an example of what companies who operate inaccessible websites may face in the future.
In 2006 the National Federation for the Blind filed a lawsuit on behalf of California citizens who are blind. Much of Target’s web site was inaccessible to them. The judge allowed the suit to proceed because, “Plaintiffs’ legal theory is that unequal access to Target.com denies the blind the full enjoyment of the goods and services offered at Target stores, which are places of public accommodation.” (outlaw.com) However, the judge also stated, “To the extent that Target.com offers information and services unconnected to Target stores, which do not affect the enjoyment of goods and services offered in Target stores, the plaintiffs fail to state a claim under Title III of the ADA.” In summary, the judge ruled that the services of a brick and mortar store must be linked to the services of the website for the ADA to apply. A bit more information is needed for this case also.
Lawsuits would not be needed if web developers strove to make their web sites accessible by following accessibility guidelines. Additionally, IU provides excellent support tools for accessible web creation through the Adaptive Technology Centers.