The need to make websites, mobile apps, and other online properties accessible to all is only going to increase as time moves on. Smart business owners will do well to get in front of this issue and make sure that their websites are ADA compliant now so that all their customers have the equal access to the resources they offer. Not just because they want to avoid a lawsuit or government action, but because it’s the right thing to do.
The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 or ADA (42 U.S.C. § 12101) is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination based on disability. It affords similar protections against discrimination to Americans with disabilities as the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which made discrimination based on race, religion, sex, national origin, and other characteristics illegal. In addition, unlike the Civil Rights Act, the ADA also requires covered employers to provide reasonable accommodations to employees with disabilities, and imposes accessibility requirements on public accommodations.
One of the first major ADA lawsuits, Paralyzed Veterans of America v. Ellerbe Becket Architects and Engineers (PVA 1996) was focused on the wheelchair accessibility of a stadium project that was still in the design phase, MCI Center (now known as Capital One Arena) in Washington, D.C. Previous to this case, which was filed only five years after the ADA was passed, the DOJ was unable or unwilling to provide clarification on the distribution requirements for accessible wheelchair locations in large assembly spaces. While Section 4.33.3 of ADAAG makes reference to lines of sight, no specific reference is made to seeing over standing patrons. The MCI Center, designed by Ellerbe Becket Architects & Engineers, was designed with too few wheelchair and companion seats, and the ones that were included did not provide sight lines that would enable the wheelchair user to view the playing area while the spectators in front of them were standing. This case and another related case established precedent on seat distribution and sight lines issues for ADA enforcement that continues to present day.
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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.
As of 2015 the ADA had improved access to public services, the built environment (e.g., crosswalks with curb cuts and accessible pedestrian signals), understanding of the abilities of people with disabilities, established a right to equal access to public services and has demonstrated the contributions which people with disabilities can make to the economy. Disparities have remained in employment, earned income, Internet access, transportation, housing, and educational attainment and the disabled remain at a disadvantage with respect to health and health care.
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Tennessee v. Lane, 541 U.S. 509 (2004), was a case in the Supreme Court of the United States involving Congress's enforcement powers under section 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment. George Lane was unable to walk after a 1997 car accident in which he was accused of driving on the wrong side of the road. A woman was killed in the crash, and Lane faced misdemeanor charges of reckless driving. The suit was brought about because he was denied access to appear in criminal court because the courthouse had no elevator, even though the court was willing to carry him up the stairs and then willing to move the hearing to the first floor. He refused, citing he wanted to be treated as any other citizen, and was subsequently charged with failure to appear, after appearing at a previous hearing where he dragged himself up the stairs. The court ruled that Congress did have enough evidence that the disabled were being denied those fundamental rights that are protected by the Due Process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and had the enforcement powers under section 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment. It further ruled that "reasonable accommodations" mandated by the ADA were not unduly burdensome and disproportionate to the harm.
As a result, most ADA suits are brought by a small number of private plaintiffs who view themselves as champions of the disabled. For the ADA to yield its promise of equal access for the disabled, it may indeed be necessary and desirable for committed individuals to bring serial litigation advancing the time when public accommodations will be compliant with the ADA."
Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Kentucky, Inc. v. Williams, was a case in which the Supreme Court interpreted the meaning of the phrase "substantially impairs" as used in the Americans with Disabilities Act. It reversed a Sixth Court of Appeals decision to grant a partial summary judgment in favor of the respondent, Ella Williams, that qualified her inability to perform manual job-related tasks as a disability. The Court held that the "major life activity" definition in evaluating the performance of manual tasks focuses the inquiry on whether Williams was unable to perform a range of tasks central to most people in carrying out the activities of daily living. The issue is not whether Williams was unable to perform her specific job tasks. Therefore, the determination of whether an impairment rises to the level of a disability is not limited to activities in the workplace solely, but rather to manual tasks in life in general. When the Supreme Court applied this standard, it found that the Court of Appeals had incorrectly determined the presence of a disability because it relied solely on her inability to perform specific manual work tasks, which was insufficient in proving the presence of a disability. The Court of Appeals should have taken into account the evidence presented that Williams retained the ability to do personal tasks and household chores, such activities being the nature of tasks most people do in their daily lives, and placed too much emphasis on her job disability. Since the evidence showed that Williams was performing normal daily tasks, it ruled that the Court of Appeals erred when it found that Williams was disabled. This ruling is now, however, no longer good law—it was invalidated by the ADAAA. In fact, Congress explicitly cited Toyota v. Williams in the text of the ADAAA itself as one of its driving influences for passing the ADAAA.