As always, litigation also became an important vehicle for the Commission to establish its policy positions on the provisions of the ADA. From the Act's effective date through July 2, 2000, the Commission has filed 375 ADA lawsuits, successfully resolving more than 91 percent of the lawsuits filed in district court either by settlement or jury verdict. The Commission also has participated as amicus curiae in 87 cases on issues arising from or connected to the ADA, the Rehabilitation Act (an act that protects federal employees and others connected with the Federal Government from workplace discrimination and which was the precursor of the ADA), or other state disability laws.

Technology is changing, and many website designers are using creative and innovative ways to present web-based materials. These changes may involve new and different access problems and solutions for people with disabilities. This Chapter discusses just a few of the most common ways in which websites can pose barriers to access for people with disabilities. By using the resources listed at the end of this Chapter, you can learn to identify and address other barriers.
The best way to know if your website is compliant is by reviewing the World Wide Web Consortium’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. Abbreviated as WCAG 2.0 and originally developed for use in European countries, these are the guiding principles for courts when assessing whether a website accommodates disabled individuals. Viewed as the closest thing to a set of rules, WCAG 2.0 informs many online accessibility laws and offers a strong list of recommendations for American organizations striving to accommodate all individuals.
To be protected by the ADA, one must have a disability or have a relationship or association with an individual with a disability. An individual with a disability is defined by the ADA as a person who has 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.
Public Services including public transportation - Title II has two sections. One covers public agencies (local, county, state, etc., government and their units). That section generally requires the agencies to comply with regulations similar to Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. These rules cover access to all programs offered by the entity. Access includes physical access described in the Uniform Federal Accessibility Standards or the ADA Standards for Accessible Design and access that might be obstructed by discriminatory policies or procedures of the entity. The other section of Title II is specific to public transportation provided by public entities. It includes the National Railroad Passenger Corporation, along with all other commuter authorities. This section requires the provision of paratransit services by public entities.
However, in states that have enacted laws that allow private individuals to win monetary awards from non-compliant businesses (as of 2008, these include California, Florida, Hawaii, and Illinois), "professional plaintiffs" are typically found. At least one of these plaintiffs in California has been barred by courts from filing lawsuits unless he receives prior court permission.[55] Through the end of fiscal year 1998, 86% of the 106,988 ADA charges filed with and resolved by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, were either dropped or investigated and dismissed by EEOC but not without imposing opportunity costs and legal fees on employers.[50]
Section 503 prohibits employment discrimination based on disability and requires affirmative action in the hiring, placement and advancement of people with disabilities by federal contractors or subcontractors. Contractors and subcontractors that have a contract with the Federal Government for $10,000 or more annually must take affirmative action to employ and advance in employment qualified individuals with disabilities. In addition, in 2013 OFCCP, which enforces Section 503, published a Final Rule that strengthened this aspect of the Rehabilitation Act. The new rule set a "utilization goal" for people with disabilities as 7 percent of employees in each job category or 7 percent of the total workforce. These changes were implemented to help increase the employment of people with disabilities by companies that do business with the Federal Government.
Section 508 applies to Federal Government agencies and the technology providers that sell to them. This section of the Rehabilitation Act requires that all information and communications technology (ICT) the Federal Government develops, procures, maintains and uses be accessible to people with disabilities. This ensures that federal employees with disabilities have comparable access to, and use of, information and data just like federal workers without disabilities. The law also ensures that members of the public with disabilities receive comparable access to publicly available information and services. Section 508 applies to a wide range of technology products, including computer hardware and software, websites, video/multimedia products, phone systems and copiers.

Unfortunately,  the waters have always been muddy surrounding ADA website compliance. While there are agreed-upon standards, there aren’t inspectors and clear paths to remediate fines, as there are with physical spaces. Even the rules that do exist have never been as clear as they should be. Additionally, Congress enacted the ADA Amendments Act to clarify the meaning and interpretation of the ADA definition of “disability” to ensure that it would be broadly defined, without extensive analysis. This creates even more potential for lawsuits.
Shortly before the act was passed, disability rights activists with physical disabilities coalesced in front of the Capitol Building, shed their crutches, wheelchairs, powerchairs and other assistive devices, and immediately proceeded to crawl and pull their bodies up all 100 of the Capitol's front steps, without warning.[38] As the activists did so, many of them chanted "ADA now", and "Vote, Now". Some activists who remained at the bottom of the steps held signs and yelled words of encouragement at the "Capitol Crawlers". Jennifer Keelan, a second grader with cerebral palsy, was videotaped as she pulled herself up the steps, using mostly her hands and arms, saying "I'll take all night if I have to." This direct action is reported to have "inconvenienced" several senators and to have pushed them to approve the act. While there are those who do not attribute much overall importance to this action, the "Capitol Crawl" of 1990 is seen by some present-day disability activists in the United States as a central act for encouraging the ADA into law.[39]
If posted on an accessible website, tax forms need to be available to people with disabilities in an accessible format on the same terms that they are available to other members of the public – 24 hours a day, seven days a week, without cost, inconvenience, or delay. A staffed telephone line that sent copies of tax forms to callers through the mail would not provide equal access to people with disabilities because of the delay involved in mailing the forms.

For documents outlining the technical requirements for accessibility to buildings and facilities by individuals with disabilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) including technical requirements to be applied during the design, construction, and alteration of buildings and facilities covered by titles II and III of the ADA required by Federal agencies and the Department of Justice and the Department of Transportation, under the ADA visit ADA Accessibility Guidelines for Buildings and Facilities (www.access-board.gov/adaag/html/adaag.htm).


For documents outlining the technical requirements for accessibility to buildings and facilities by individuals with disabilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) including technical requirements to be applied during the design, construction, and alteration of buildings and facilities covered by titles II and III of the ADA required by Federal agencies and the Department of Justice and the Department of Transportation, under the ADA visit ADA Accessibility Guidelines for Buildings and Facilities (www.access-board.gov/adaag/html/adaag.htm).

Access Now v. Southwest Airlines was a case where the District Court decided that the website of Southwest Airlines was not in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, because the ADA is concerned with things with a physical existence and thus cannot be applied to cyberspace. Judge Patricia A. Seitz found that the "virtual ticket counter" of the website was a virtual construct, and hence not a "public place of accommodation." As such, "To expand the ADA to cover 'virtual' spaces would be to create new rights without well-defined standards."[76]
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law on July 26, 1990, by President George H.W. Bush. The ADA is one of America's most comprehensive pieces of civil rights legislation that 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. 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 is an "equal opportunity" law for people with disabilities.

This past September marked the first time a judge ruled that the ADA applies even to businesses without a physical location. Scribd, an e-book subscription service is considered to provide "a place of public accommodation." Their services are not accessible to blind persons because they cannot be read with a screen reader. The judge reasoned, "Now that the Internet plays such a critical role in the personal and professional lives of Americans, excluding disabled persons from access to covered entities that use it as their principal means of reaching the public would defeat the purpose of this important civil rights legislation."
With these guidelines laying the groundwork for how best to comply with ADA law in America, many organizations increasingly have more clarity around the standards required of them and how to best accommodate disabled users. The best course of action is to act on website accessibility NOW. You simply cannot afford to wait another day. Whether that is with small or large steps, all effort is worthwhile in protecting your company so you can truly focus on what you’re best at: conducting business and encouraging a myriad of users to access your content.
On September 15, 2010 the Department published final regulations revising the Department’s ADA regulations, including the adoption of updated ADA Standards for Accessible Design (2010 Standards).  The revised final rules went into effect on March 15, 2011.  Compliance with the 2010 Standards was required on March 15, 2012, except that compliance with the requirements in the 2010 Standards with respect to existing swimming pools was subsequently extended to January 31, 2013. (77 FR 30174 (May 21, 2012)).
Blind people, those with low vision, and people with other disabilities that affect their ability to read a computer display often use different technologies so they can access the information displayed on a webpage. Two commonly used technologies are screen readers and refreshable Braille displays. As discussed above, a screen reader is a computer program that speaks the text that appears on the computer display, beginning in the top-left corner. A refreshable Braille display is an electronic device that translates text into Braille characters that can be read by touch. These assistive technologies read text. They cannot translate images into speech or Braille, even if words appear in the images. For example, these technologies cannot interpret a photograph of a stop sign, even if the word “stop” appears in the image.
While legal considerations might be your biggest worry, making your site more accessible is simply good customer service. More than 39 million Americans are blind and another 246 million have "low vision," Another one million are deaf in the U.S. Add to that people with mobility issues that prevent them from using their hands and that's a huge portion of the country's buying power.
Prohibited discrimination may include, among other things, firing or refusing to hire someone based on a real or perceived disability, segregation, and harassment based on a disability. Covered entities are also required to provide reasonable accommodations to job applicants and employees with disabilities.[16] A reasonable accommodation is a change in the way things are typically done that the person needs because of a disability, and can include, among other things, special equipment that allows the person to perform the job, scheduling changes, and changes to the way work assignments are chosen or communicated.[17] An employer is not required to provide an accommodation that would involve undue hardship (significant difficulty or expense), and the individual who receives the accommodation must still perform the essential functions of the job and meet the normal performance requirements. An employee or applicant who currently engages in the illegal use of drugs is not considered qualified when a covered entity takes adverse action based on such use.[18]
* Alterations must be accessible. When alterations to primary function areas are made, an accessible path of travel to the altered area (and the bathrooms, telephones, and drinking fountains serving that area) must be provided to the extent that the added accessibility costs are not disproportionate to the overall cost of the alterations. Elevators are required as described above.
Section 503 prohibits employment discrimination based on disability and requires affirmative action in the hiring, placement and advancement of people with disabilities by federal contractors or subcontractors. Contractors and subcontractors that have a contract with the Federal Government for $10,000 or more annually must take affirmative action to employ and advance in employment qualified individuals with disabilities. In addition, in 2013 OFCCP, which enforces Section 503, published a Final Rule that strengthened this aspect of the Rehabilitation Act. The new rule set a "utilization goal" for people with disabilities as 7 percent of employees in each job category or 7 percent of the total workforce. These changes were implemented to help increase the employment of people with disabilities by companies that do business with the Federal Government.
UPDATE: Since writing this post in August 2017, several important changes have taken place in the laws regarding ADA compliance for websites. On December 26, 2017, the Department of Justice announced that they have withdrawn the Obama-era Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking mentioned in this article which intended to require ADA website compliance. The DOJ’s withdrawal announcement stated, “The Department will continue to assess whether specific technical standards are necessary and appropriate to assist covered entities with complying with the ADA.”
×