More than 1 billion people live with disabilities; over 57 million reside in the United States, many of whom are unable to participate in everyday activities, such as using computers, mobile phones, tablets, and similar technologies. Devices that should help to improve quality of life for disabled individuals often become a source of frustration due to the inaccessibility of websites. By making your website ADA compliant, you will gain a new and loyal revenue source, and minimize the possibility of legal action against your company.
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. 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. 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.
I should mention one caveat to all of this. Businesses that are required to comply but don't have the ability to bring their websites into compliance can provide an accessible alternative to provide the same information, goods, and services that they provide online, like a staffed phone line. The trick, however, is that this option has to provide at least equal access, including in terms of hours of operation. And, as we know, the internet is around 24/7, so good luck with that.
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Three defendants were able to dismiss website access lawsuits early because they had already entered into consent decree or settlement agreements with previous plaintiffs which required them to make their websites conform to the WCAG 2.0 within a specified amount of time. That said, not all courts agree that a prior settlement — as opposed to a binding judgment or court order — can be the basis for a dismissal.
On September 25, 2008, President George W. Bush signed the ADA Amendments Act of 2008 (ADAAA) into law. The amendment broadened the definition of "disability", thereby extending the ADA's protections to a greater number of people. The ADAAA also added to the ADA examples of "major life activities" including, but not limited to, "caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, seeing, hearing, eating, sleeping, walking, standing, lifting, bending, speaking, breathing, learning, reading, concentrating, thinking, communicating, and working" as well as the operation of several specified major bodily functions. The act overturned a 1999 US Supreme Court case that held that an employee was not disabled if the impairment could be corrected by mitigating measures; it specifically provides that such impairment must be determined without considering such ameliorative measures. It also overturned the court restriction that an impairment which substantially limits one major life activity must also limit others to be considered a disability. In 2008, the United States House Committee on Education and Labor stated that the amendment "makes it absolutely clear that the ADA is intended to provide broad coverage to protect anyone who faces discrimination on the basis of disability." Thus the ADAAA led to broader coverage of impaired employees.
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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."
Peter is Founder and CEO of Blue Interactive Agency, a full service digital marketing agency. With a passion for online marketing, Peter enjoys analyzing digital strategies and offering his unique view on how effective they are. Having a track record of successfully commercializing digital properties, Peter is always looking for the next challenge to help a company succeed online. In his spare time, Peter maintains a personal blog which focuses on his gastronome adventures.