The law on Web access

Does the ADA apply to the Internet?

Web access opponents quieted -- temporarily

"More and more the Internet is the world," University of Missouri programming analyst Gary Wunder told the House Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on the Constitution in early February. (2/9/2000) "It is where we shop and it is where we make our living."

The burgeoning e-commerce industry, restive in the wake of an Americans with Disabilities lawsuit filed in November by the National Federation of the Blind against America Online, wants to argue the ADA doesn't apply to the Web. A showdown of sorts between Web industry libertarians and access activists who packed the room at the Feb. 9 hearing of Rep. Charles Canady's (R. - FL) subcommittee "went very well for our side," according to one of the access advocates. (Canady's subcommittee was the one considering a bill to gut housing access requirements in the last session (See "Anti-access bill stopped -- for now," D.R. Nation, Jan./Feb. 2000.).

Right-wing pundit Walter Olson, author of the anti-rights book The Excuse Factory and one of less than a dozen experts asked to testify, carped about the "ADA's application as a serious threat to the freedom, spontaneity and continued growth of the Web." And there were the usual histrionics about the cost of access.

But Wunder testified that the issue had more to do "with ideological objections to government involvement than the real cost of implementing accessible systems.

"A graphic displayed on a screen may take upwards of half a million computer characters to display, while its text description will take less than 100," he explained.

"The presence of graphics is not the problem," he said. The problem is "unlabeled graphics -- and the design of systems which rely only on graphics.

"I've never seen any figures to indicate that the cost of accessibility is economically impractical," he added.

Many of those close to the hearing said they felt the Subcommittee was satisfied and would not pursue the issue further. Some said the fears of business about making sites accessible came from "misunderstandings about what constitutes Web access," and that once those were cleared up things "settled down." But others said Internet industry groups were "on a campaign to convince Congress that Web access is costly and overly burdensome to business" and said they didn't expect the controversy over Web access to go away any time soon.

Comments of those who spoke at the hearing are online at www.house.gov/judiciary/con0209.htm

The law on Web access

The ADA, passed in 1990, did not specifically address access to the just-forming World Wide Web.

Section 255 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, Pub. L. 104-104, codified at 47 U.S.C. Sec. 255, requires telecommunications services and equipment to be accessible, and Section 508 of the Workforce Investment Act of 1998 says Federal agencies must have accessible websites.

More on web access and the law

Does the ADA apply to the Internet?

"Covered entities under the ADA are required to provide effective communication, regardless of whether they generally communicate through print media, audio media, or computerized media such as the Internet. Covered entities that use the Internet for communications regarding their programs, goods, or services must be prepared to offer those communications through accessible means as well."

Assistant Atty. General Deval L. Patrick,
Civil Rights Division,
U.S.Dept. of Justice, to Sen. Tom Harkin,
Sept. 9, 1996



Back to table of contents


© Copyright 2000 The Ragged Edge

This Website produced by Cliffwood Organic Works