Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) Turns 25
represents the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). A look back at the history and lifespan of the ADA cannot take place without considering the technological revolution that has taken place in recent decades. The physical considerations and accommodations within our environment such as wheelchair ramps and braille signage often come to mind for many people when considering the ADA. These are undoubtedly important accommodations that have come about as a result of the ADA. However, the impact of the ADA expands beyond the physical environment and modifications to buildings, and has also been applied to information and communication technology (ICT).
What is the ADA?
The ADA represents one of America's most comprehensive pieces of civil rights legislation. It prohibits discrimination and guarantees that people with disabilities have the same opportunities as everyone else to participate in the mainstream of American life -- to enjoy employment opportunities, to purchase goods and services, and to participate in State and local government programs and services. The ADA can be considered an “equal opportunity” law for people with disabilities. It was modeled after the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin – and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.
The ADA defines a disability as the following:
“A physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a person who has a history or record of such an impairment, or a person who is perceived by others as having such an impairment. The ADA does not specifically name all of the impairments that are covered.” (“Information & Technical Assistance on the ADA
Although it’s difficult to place an exact figure on the number of people with disabilities, a widely cited statistic is that approximately one in five people in the United States has some form of disability.
The ADA has inspired disability rights laws all around the world. Since 2000, 181 countries have passed disability civil rights laws inspired by the ADA according to the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund, a civil rights law and policy center. (NPR, July 24, 2015: “How A Law To Protect Disabled Americans Became Imitated Around The World”)
The ADA was actually signed into law months prior to the creation of the Internet. The impact that information and communication technology (ICT) has had in people’s lives following the ADA could not have been forecasted. Because of the ubiquity of ICT in virtually every aspect of our lives today, the Department of Justice has taken the position that accessible ICT is a critical civil rights issue for people with disabilities, and therefore falls under the ADA.
“As more and more of our social infrastructure is made available on the Internet–in some cases, exclusively online–access to information and electronic technologies is increasingly becoming the gateway civil rights issue for individuals with disabilities.” (Justice News-Department of Justice)
A case in February of this year involved a lawsuit against Harvard and M.I.T. over the lack of closed captions. For additional settlements involving the Department of Justice (DOJ), read (“Higher Ed Accessibility Lawsuits, Complaints, and Settlements”)
The DOJ has been requiring Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0) in several of its recent settlements. WCAG 2.0 covers a wide range of recommendations for making Web content more accessible, and represents international guidelines followed by several countries around the world. The United States Access Board is in the process of updating its Section 508 ICT standards, which is being referred to as ICT Refresh. ICT Refresh is being closely harmonized with the WCAG 2.0 guidelines. (About the ICT Refres
The ADA and Georgia's AccessGA Initiative
The ADA is broad in scope. It impacts all employers with 15 or more employees, any business owner that provides goods and services to the public, state and local government agencies, including public schools, transportation providers, and anyone building, designing, or remodeling construction projects. 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 suggests that they are also required 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, under the ADA it would also need to be made accessible in order to accommodate the needs of people with disabilities.
The AccessGA Initiative assists state agencies throughout Georgia in bridging the technological divide through its resources and trainings, thereby allowing individuals with disabilities equal access through ICT accessibility. AccessGA represents a partnership between the ADA Coordinator’s Office, AMAC Accessibility and Research Center, and the Georgia Technology Authority (GTA). Through this partnership, several trainings and services are offered, including:
- Live and archived webinars: this includes state and national presenters on a variety of topics such as document accessibility, web accessibility, captioning for the deaf and hard of hearing, universal design and procurement.
- Technical Assistance and Hands-On Training: onsite and offsite presentations and trainings are offered in the areas of ICT accessibility, and are customized to the needs of specific agencies’ needs.
- Monthly newsletters: current trends and information related to ICT accessibility is addressed, and includes links to upcoming and archived webinars.
- Up-to-Date Wiki of ICT Accessibility and Resources: this includes a plethora of archived webinars, articles and resources available at: www.accessga.org A linked heading entitled “Legal” has recently been added which lists specific information and resources related to ICT accessibility.
- Web Accessibility Audits: this includes detailed audits that provide information on aspects of the site that are accessible, and areas that may need additional attention.
For additional information on the AccessGA Initiative, visit www.accessga.org or call us at 855-495-0374. We will be glad to answer any questions, and discuss ways in which the AccessGA Initiative can help your agency.
Registration Now Open for Upcoming Webinar August 5th, 2015
August 5th: 11:00-12:00: Accessible Knowledge: the Opportunity & Challenge of MOOCs
During this webinar you will learn about Georgia Tech's MOOC on Accessible Information and Communication Technology (ICT). Topics include:
- Definition of Diversity and Inclusion
- Description of Georgia Tech's MOOC
- Platform-independent Education
- MOOC-specific Approaches
Participants will learn how accessibility issues can be addressed with mainstream or assistive technology-related ICT. Resources will be provided for accessible ICT principles, guidelines, and standards so that accessibility within post-secondary institutions is baked in, not layered on.
To register for this webinar, access the following link: (Accessible Knowledge: the Opportunity & Challenge of MOOCs)