Accessibility court cases worth thinking about

Written by Adrian Holovaty on October 7, 2002

Does the Americans with Disabilities Act apply to the Internet? Are Web sites (at least, American ones) required by law to be accessible to alternate browsers such as screen readers? Two lawsuits could decide this once and for all, reports a law.com article.

The court cases involve the Web sites of two airline companies, which offer exclusive Web ticket price discounts and happen to be inaccessible to screen readers. Obviously, because there's no other way to get these discounts, users who can't access the site can't get the discounts.

It'll be interesting to see how this turns out. According to the law.com article, many believe this could end up before the U.S. Supreme Court. Mark Pilgrim says this could be an "accessibility watershed." Slashdot folk are already asking whether they should redesign their sites to make them more accessible.

But what about news sites? Does this matter to them?

Duh.

Most news sites don't offer exclusive ticket prices -- but many offer exclusive news. They're producing more and more online-only content, from breaking news stories to exclusive columns. If alternate browsers can't access this online-only content -- and that content is of some value -- you can bet that's a lawsuit waiting to happen.

And forget about the lawsuit threat for a second, and think about the larger role journalists play. Philosophically, it's critical that there be universal access to journalism, because it's one of the most important foundations of democracy. Plus, it's insanely hypocritical that news organizations, which historically have trumpeted freedom of information, tend to produce Web sites grossly inaccessible to users of alternate browsers. (For more on this, see my interview with a blind Internet user.)

Don't wait until the law makes you do it. Make your site accessible now. The longer you wait, the more you'll have to clean up later.

Comments

Posted by Rob on October 9, 2002, at 2:06 p.m.:

Your mention of the ADA and its application to the Internet got me thinking. I have found it surprising with my new job designing some web pages for the University of Missouri that there are no apparent regulations that require their pages to be accessible. Universites are quite careful to follow ADA guidelines in every other aspect other than the Internet (for example, every syllabi handed out is required to have a blanket ADA statement). They even provide computers for people who meet ADA regulations at most computing sites. Yet, university web pages do not (apparently) have to meet any accessibility guidelines. Federal government pages are required (by law) to comply to Section 508. Is it a stretch that state run universities should comply to some similar guideline (or be compelled to by law)?

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