Olmstead v. L.C. was a case before the United States Supreme Court in 1999. The two plaintiffs L.C. and E.W. were institutionalized in Georgia for diagnosed mental retardation and schizophrenia. Clinical assessments by the state determined that the plaintiffs could be appropriately treated in a community setting rather than the state institution. The plaintiffs sued the state of Georgia and the institution for being inappropriately treated and housed in the institutional setting rather than being treated in one of the state's community based treatment facilities.
Leading web developers have been pioneering accessibility and publishing standards since 1994. In 1999, the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) and the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) created the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). In essence, the people who determine how the internet is written came together to advise web developers on how to make websites accessible not only to people with disabilities, but to all web users, including those with highly limited devices.
If you have a disability and are qualified to do a job, the ADA protects you from job discrimination on the basis of your disability. Under the ADA, you have a disability if you have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity. The ADA also protects you if you have a history of such a disability, or if an employer believes that you have such a disability, even if you don't.
It makes sense that everyone should have equal access to websites and online properties. The Internet has become an integral part of our lives, where we go to shop, learn, do our banking, and socialize. The DOJ hasn’t determined what the final set of regulations for ADA compliant websites will be yet, but there are established guidelines and standards of accessibility that can be viewed on the ADA website. Once a website meets these accessibility standards it qualifies as ADA compliant.
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 On December 26, 2017, the Department of Justice announced that they have withdrawn the Obama-era Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking mentioned in this article which intended to require ADA website compliance.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.”
If you have a disability, you must also be qualified to perform the essential functions or duties of a job, with or without reasonable accommodation, in order to be protected from job discrimination by the ADA. This means two things. First, you must satisfy the employer's requirements for the job, such as education, employment experience, skills or licenses. Second, you must be able to perform the essential functions of the job with or without reasonable accommodation. Essential functions are the fundamental job duties that you must be able to perform on your own or with the help of a reasonable accommodation. An employer cannot refuse to hire you because your disability prevents you from performing duties that are not essential to the job.
Poorly designed websites can create unnecessary barriers for people with disabilities, just as poorly designed buildings prevent some people with disabilities from entering. Access problems often occur because website designers mistakenly assume that everyone sees and accesses a webpage in the same way. This mistaken assumption can frustrate assistive technologies and their users. Accessible website design recognizes these differences and does not require people to see, hear, or use a standard mouse in order to access the information and services provided.
Many people with disabilities use assistive technology that enables them to use computers. Some assistive technology involves separate computer programs or devices, such as screen readers, text enlargement software, and computer programs that enable people to control the computer with their voice. Other assistive technology is built into computer operating systems. For example, basic accessibility features in computer operating systems enable some people with low vision to see computer displays by simply adjusting color schemes, contrast settings, and font sizes. Operating systems enable people with limited manual dexterity to move the mouse pointer using key strokes instead of a standard mouse. Many other types of assistive technology are available, and more are still being developed.
In 2001, for men of all working ages and women under 40, Current Population Survey data showed a sharp drop in the employment of disabled workers, leading at least two economists to attribute the cause to the Act. By contrast, a study in 2003 found that while the Act may have led to short term reactions by employers, in the long term, there were either positive or neutral consequences for wages and employment. In 2005 the rate of employment among disabled people increased to 45% of the population of disabled people.
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.