[thelist] US Judge rules that ADA applies to websites

Judah McAuley judah at wiredotter.com
Mon Sep 11 19:11:42 CDT 2006

Matt Warden wrote:
> This is the sort of thing I would like to see with web accessibility
> regulations: legislation being passed, not court cases being won.
> Surely when the ADA was passed, there was a deadline established which
> gave businesses time to become compliant.

Instead of working on regulatory frameworks, the business lobbying 
community has chosen to try and dissuade legislators from crafting new 
law in that area. The Clinton administration told Congress that, in its 
opinion, it seemed likely that the ADA would cover the Internet as 
written. Congress has thus far chosen to let the courts handle the issue 
instead of being proactive. I think that's short-sighted but it is 
Congresses prerogative.

> Probably, but there are going to be a lot of things that will simply
> have to be removed from websites until we can figure out a way to do
> them in an accessible manner. What used to be innovation will now be a
> liability.

Could you provide examples? I think this is a largely unfounded 
statement, but I could be wrong. I work building some pretty innovative 
tools for websites and accessibility is built in from the ground up 
where ever it makes sense. One thing that is important to remember is 
that the ADA does not require you to make everything work identically 
for all people. It requires that reasonable accommodations be made. 
We've just been working on a Flash-based visual (wysiwyg) design tool. A 
good portion of the tool is probably not accessible via screen reader. 
But that's because it's meant to be a visual design tool. The rest of 
the site will work just fine without it and is accessible.

The lawsuit against Target came about because they are unreasonably 
excluding people. There is no logical reason for someone with a screen 
reader to not be able to add a product to their cart, put in credit card 
info and check out. There is no innovation issue, its just a company 
trying to defend a short-sighted business decision.


> Absolutely. I consult with public sector and have had to keep
> accessibility in mind. There is significant R&D we must do when coming
> out with innovative applications, because no one has *really* figured
> out all the things one must do to make ajax/dom accessible, for
> example (there has been work on screen readers, but it reaches must
> further).

Ajax/dom scripting is a great way to make things easier/more intuitive 
for some users in some situations. Good coding guidelines have always 
indicated that they are enhancements, however, and degrade gracefully to 
a less snazzy, but usable, form when they won't work. Once again, the 
ADA doesn't mandate that things be exactly the same for everyone. The 
folks I know in wheelchairs would love to be able to walk up the three 
front steps of a building instead of navigating a wheelchair ramp that 
winds up to the top. But they are in a wheelchair and that means they 
have to take the ramp. So long as they can reasonably get to the top, 
then things are ok. Accessibility advocates are surprisingly 
understanding folks if people make the effort. They aren't asking you to 
take out your stairs, they are just asking you to make sure you've got a 
way up for the people in a wheelchair too.

> You mean it represents an opportunity for us to cash in on the wave of
> fear companies will undergo until this is clarified... which is why I
> would prefer this be done by additional legislation so that it is
> clear and allows a grace period to become compliant.

I'd rather it be done by people being basically reasonable human beings 
that think beyond the their own limited experience and are willing to 
spend a little extra time and money to accommodate others even when they 
aren't 100% sure it will be a net benefit to their bottom line.

If you read the particulars of this case, accessibility advocates have 
been trying to get Target to make changes for their site for years. 
Target would rather be litigious. If Congress won't act to clarify the 
particulars of the ADA and companies won't voluntarily do what's right, 
then I don't think you can really blame people for taking the only 
recourse available to them, which is the court system.

If this court case prompts Congress to take stock of the situation and 
provide meaningful clarification and guidelines (including a grace 
period) I will happily support the effort. But until then, we can use 
this case as a gentle prod for clients that have been reluctant to 
consider accessibility with their development plans because they don't 
perceive a business benefit. And I think that will end up being a net 
benefit for the client even if they do not yet see it.


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