[thelist] Re: Does the Americans with Disabilities, ADA, act pertain to Internet Content?

martin.p.burns at uk.pwcglobal.com martin.p.burns at uk.pwcglobal.com
Thu Oct 10 07:31:00 CDT 2002

Responding to several posts:

Benjamin wrote:
> This isn't the proper forum for it most likely but I believe it must be
> said; the Internet, as it stands today, is primarily a visual medium.
> law is, in my opinion, akin to someone who is deaf suing the RIAA because
> they are unable to hear the music on a CD they just bought

Presumably you'd also argue that films shouldn't have subtitles for the
deaf or audio descriptions for the blind..?

Funny that - my DVD of Monsters Inc. has both.

I'd be more prepared to argue for the removal of the laugh track on
sit-coms for the humour impaired...

btw, the Internet is more text than any other kind of medium, even though
there are some fine (and not-so-fine) examples of other media used.

> On a side note, at least this would do away with moronic flash only

On the contrary, if the Internet is a visual-only medium, then the primary
problem with flash-only sites goes away, and the argument for them becomes
highly persuasive. (Although it's worth saying that MM are doing a lot of
work to make Flash more accessible than it historically has been).

Bill wrote:
> I believe the ADA says that companies above 15 employees  must follow the
> law's mandates.

>From memory, that's under the schedule for staff accessibility (ie it would
apply to Intranets, not to Internet or Extranet sites). If I have a staff
of 3, but a wide public customer base, then it's logical that the act
should apply to me as much as it does to a company with the same customer
base and more employees.

In the UK, the 1995 DDA talks about agencies that provide services to the
public, and provides an (explicitly) non-exclusive list.

Stephen wrote:
> What company in todays economy wants to look like the bad guy and have it
> plastered on every major media outlet.  Their lawyers are probably saying
> is a tossup

And where lawyers think it's evenly balanced, their usual advice is to
settle as the risk is too great in case you lose. Which should be our
advice to clients, even if we think that the law's not clear. To cover our
backsides[1], we should be advising clients "If it goes to court and you
lose (which is a distinct probability, if not certainty), you're in deep
trouble. Even if you win, you don't want to be paying lawyers any more than
you have to. Avoiding that, provided it's planned for early enough, will
cost almost nothing, and give you some nice search engine placement bonuses

[1] From 2 perspectives - (a) If your client goes down and you didn't warn
them, they're going to sue you (b) from memory (books are at home),
contractors providing inaccessible work for clients are also liable under

> It would be nice if somebody went to court so that it would help clear
the air.

Amen to that

Brian wrote:
> There are many cases where the guidelines have been rewritten or
> simply canned because they were found to be harmful to others or simply
> stringent to be economically feasible.  One example would be in the
> Commercial Fire Alarm industry.

There are 2 things working here:
1) The principle. The ADA sets out the principle that there shouldn't be
reduced access to people based on their disabilities. Because it was
written in advance of the level of Internet services we have today, it
doesn't mention them. Logically, they should be included by the spirit of
the law, but this hasn't yet been fully tested in the US courts.
2) The letter. The other question is "What does it mean to be accessible in
web terms?" Again, there's no firm court ruling as yet. However, the
choices are compliance with
a) Section 508 rules to the letter
b) WAI guidelines to a specified level to the letter, most probably level A
(the 'musts'), with demonstrated effort on the higher levels
c) Something else, defined from scratch.

I would strongly anticipate that (a) or (b) will be chosen. Given that, I'd
make my sites absolutely compliant to 508 and WAI-A, and do my best on the
remaining WAI-AA and -AAAs, and document it. Should my sites be chosen as a
test case (and I've worked on sites which were high-profile enough to be
candidates), I have all the documentation to get the case thrown out. Which
is what you want. Settling out of court is expensive in both compensation
and legal fees.


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