25 Years with the ADA
Where We Have Been, Where We Are Going
On July 26, 1990, the United States Congress passed the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA represents legislation that has resulted in the culmination of decades of advocacy on the part of people with disabilities that goes as far back as the end of the Second World War. A number of laws related to people with disabilities were already in existence prior to the ADA, including the following:
- Section 504: requires organizations that receive federal funding to not discriminate against individuals with disabilities. (1973)
- Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA): requires schools to provide special education services for people with disabilities. (1975)
- Uniform Federal Accessibility Standards (UFAS): set forth guidelines for accessibility in buildings owned by the federal government. (1984)
- Air Carrier Access Act: forbids discrimination against people with disabilities by airlines and airports. (1986)
The ADA was designed with the intention of addressing some of the shortcomings of the existing laws at the time. These shortcomings existed in the areas of employment accommodations, accessibility of state government services (including transportation), accessibility of places of public accommodation, and telecommunication relay services.
With the ubiquitous and far-reaching impact that information technology has on virtually every aspect of our lives today, it is easy to overlook the fact that a few decades ago information technology played a much smaller role. Only a few months after the ADA was signed into law, the World Wide Web came of age, with the first webpage posted in December of 1990. It would have been virtually impossible (no pun intended) for anyone to have predicted the future impact that the Internet would have in people’s lives.
Although not yet mainstream, personal computers were beginning to become popular in 1990. Much of the information was text-based at that time. From a technological standpoint, text-based information was largely accessible through screen readers that convert text to speech for people who were blind.
1990 was a pivotal year on many fronts. With the increased popularity of Apple’s graphical user interface (GUI), the introduction of Windows 3.0 with its GUI, and the coming of age of the Internet, the world of information and communication technology began its rapid transition from a largely text-based environment to a much more visual, graphics-based medium.
Fast forward 25 years, and Americans now rely on their mobile devices, tablets, computers and the Internet for banking, employment, news, social media, and virtually every aspect of our activities of daily living. This technological revolution has created a level of reliance and dependency on information and communication technology that is every bit as important as the traditional brick and mortar businesses. Unfortunately, there is a lack of legislation that addresses equal access to information and communication technology for people with disabilities. Inaccessible software solutions used throughout industry, inaccessible documents and web content have created very real and significant barriers for people with disabilities. Congress passed a reauthorization of the Vocational Rehabilitation Act in 1998 that contained new language, known as Section 508, which requires federal websites and content to meet specific accessibility standards. Although Section 508 can apply to some agencies or establishments receiving federal funds in specific instances, it primarily applies to federal agencies. The United States Access Board is in the process of updating Section 508 standards (also known as ICT Refresh) to more closely harmonize with an internationally recognized set of standards known as Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0). For more information on this topic, read About the ICT Refresh
In recent years, the Department of Justice (DOJ) has played a major role in promoting greater accessibility in the area of information and communication technology through its settlements and agreements of several high profile cases. DOJ makes reference to specific language within the ADA in these cases. For example, Title II of the ADA requires that state and local governments provide “program access” for people with disabilities. If state and local government websites are considered a “program,” this implies that they would also have to be accessible, absent an undue burden. Title III of the ADA also makes reference to “places of public accommodation” that shall be accessible. If a website is considered a “place” of public accommodation, logic would suggest that it too would need to be made accessible in order to accommodate the needs of people with disabilities. The Atlantic published an article this month entitled Should Netflix Be Accessible to the Deaf?
which explores the legal landscape surrounding Internet-based services as a “place of public accommodation” under the ADA. The federal government’s ADA.gov website also provides a list of settlements and agreements reached by the DOJ under the ADA. For more information, read Advancing Equal Access
The settlements that DOJ has been involved with have been far reaching. Several of the recent settlements outline a number of requirements, which include meeting WCAG 2.0 guidelines, providing web and mobile accessibility, appointing a Web Accessibility Coordinator, and adopting a Web Accessibility Policy.
Within the rapidly changing technological and legal landscape we find ourselves in today, the DOJ has been sending a powerful message to businesses, governmental agencies, and educational institutions that information and communication is essential and should be made available to everyone.
Competing Revolutions: How Technology Advancement and Disability Advocacy Can Coexist
View the recent webinar Competing Revolutions: How Technology Advancement and Disability Advocacy Can Coexist
featuring Curtis Edmonds, Managing Attorney with Disability Rights New Jersey and the Assistive Technology Advocacy Center. He provides a history of emerging trends in technology and accessibility to the present day, and how laws such as the Americans with Disabilities Act have helped to make technology more accessible for everyone.
Registration Now Open for Upcoming Webinars on June 9th and June 17th, 2015
June 9th: 1:30-2:30: Universal Design and Assistive Technology Solutions That Benefit Everyone
The guiding principles of universal design and assistive technology solutions have played a pivotal role in equalizing the playing field for people with disabilities. In this one-hour webinar, Jim Mueller, an industrial designer who has worked in the field of design for people with disabilities since 1974 and one of the authors of the 7 Principles of Universal Design, will address why universal design is valuable for everyone. Carolyn Phillips, Director of Tools for Life at AMAC, and John Rempel, Quality Control and Training Specialist at AMAC, will discuss a number of assistive technology solutions used by people with disabilities that allow for greater independence, quality of life and employment opportunities. In order to register for this webinar, access the following link: Universal Design and Assistive Technology Solutions That Benefit Everyone
June 17th: 1:30-2:30: Creating Accessible Word and PowerPoint Documents
Place description here. In order to register for this webinar, access the following link: Creating Accessible Word and PowerPoint Documents