Service animals in public schools (K-12)13 – The ADA permits a student with a disability who uses a service animal to have the animal at school. In addition, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act allow a student to use an animal that does not meet the ADA definition of a service animal if that student’s Individual Education Plan (IEP) or Section 504 team decides the animal is necessary for the student to receive a free and appropriate education. Where the ADA applies, however, schools should be mindful that the use of a service animal is a right that is not dependent upon the decision of an IEP or Section 504 team.14
When it is not obvious what service an animal provides, only limited inquiries are allowed. Staff may ask two questions: (1) is the dog a service animal required because of a disability, and (2) what work or task has the dog been trained to perform. Staff cannot ask about the person’s disability, require medical documentation, require a special identification card or training documentation for the dog, or ask that the dog demonstrate its ability to perform the work or task.
The Department of Justice may file lawsuits in federal court to enforce the ADA Compliance, and courts may order compensatory damages and back pay to remedy discrimination if the Department prevails. Under title III, the Department of Justice may also obtain civil penalties of up to $55,000 for the first violation and $110,000 for any subsequent violation of ADA Compliance.
The Fair Housing Act (FHA), as amended in 1988, applies to housing. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in all housing programs and activities that are either conducted by the federal government or receive federal financial assistance. Title II of the ADA applies to housing provided by state or local government entities.
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."
You may have noticed that the law refers to federal agencies, so you might be thinking, “Well, this a federal issue -- how does this relate to a private business website, or how am I affected by this law?” Websites are now considered public entities since any user can access them via a computer or any other device. Think of this as a building requiring wheelchair-accessible ramps. The same basic principle applies to websites or any other technology.
One thing to check is that your website includes alternative text (aka alt text) for each image. Alt text is a word or phrase that describes an image for those with a visual impairment. Having accurate alt text is important not only because it enables screen reading software, such as NVDA or JAWS, to describe images to visually impaired users, but also because it enables search engines to display images based on written descriptions and to display search results more accurately. This type of testing can be tedious to do manually, so consider using an automated system to find potential violations and issues faster. The W3C has a list of web accessibility evaluation tools.
The words in the tag should be more than a description. They should provide a text equivalent of the image. In other words, the tag should include the same meaningful information that other users obtain by looking at the image. In the example of the mayor’s picture, adding an “alt” tag with the words “Photograph of Mayor Jane Smith” provides a meaningful description.
Starting January 18, 2018, that 12-month clock runs out and to be ADA compliant you need to have your website compliant with WCAG 2.0 A/AA standards. All federal websites must meet compliance with all items in WCAG 2.0 AA by this time. This is not entirely a new requirement as the Department of Justice (DOJ), which enforces the ADA, issued preliminary rules back in 2010. However, the DOJ is now expected to enforce updates to Section 508 that was approved back in January 2017. Please note that WCAG 2.0 AA guidelines are endorsed by DOJ and these guidelines combined with Section 508 Standards are now recognized as the baseline requirements for website accessibility and expected to be used by the DOJ as a benchmark in settling website accessibility matters.
Since March 15, 2012, ADA compliance with the 2010 Standards will be required for new construction and alterations. In the period between September 15, 2010 and March 15, 2012, covered entities may choose between the 1991 Standards ADA Compliance (without the elevator exemption for Title II facilities), the Uniform Federal Accessibility Standards (Title II facilities only), and the 2010 Standards ADA Compliance.
IDEA Complaints - Parents can request a due process hearing and a review from the state educational agency if applicable in that state. They also can appeal the state agency’s decision to state or federal court. You may contact the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS) for further information or to provide your own thoughts and ideas on how they may better serve individuals with disabilities, their families and their communities.