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Computerworld Online - Does disabilities act apply to cyberspace?

From: Kathleen Anderson <kathleen.anderson@po.state.ct.us>
Date: Wed, 09 Feb 2000 20:18:58 -0500
Message-ID: <38A21202.BDD112C@po.state.ct.us>
To: wai-ig list <w3c-wai-ig@w3.org>
From idg.net online - Computerworld - 
you might also be able to use this link:
http://www.idg.net/gomail.cgi?id=137933


Does disabilities act apply to cyberspace?

               By Patrick Thibodeau
               02/09/2000 WASHINGTON — A U.S. House of
               Representatives committee heard conflicting arguments
               today over whether the Americans with Disabilities Act
               (ADA) applies to virtual space in much the same way it
               now applies to physical spaces. 

               The U.S. Department of Justice believes the ADA, a law
               that prohibits discrimination against people with
               disabilities, does apply to Web sites, and the federal
               government is expected to issue accessibility
               requirements directed at federal departments and
               agencies by March. 

               Federal Web site operators will have to make a number
               of changes to comply with these regulations, such as
               including streaming audio or audio files to accompany
               text. The rules may also require captioning for video
               and restrict the use of color to display information. Web
               sites will also have to provide formats that are
               compatible with braille- and speech-synthesis devices. 

               Other provisions may ban touch screens and prohibit
               moving text and animation unless there are no
               alternatives. 

               U.S. Rep. Charles Canady (R-Fla.), chairman of the
               House Judiciary Committee's Constitution
               Subcommittee, said the federal effort "can help serve to
               educate both the public and private sectors (about) how
               greater handicapped accessibility of the Web can be
               achieved with relatively low-cost solutions." 

               But legal experts testifying before the committee were
               divided on whether the ADA will apply to Web sites. 

               The matter is already in court. Last fall, the National
               Federation of the Blind filed a class-action lawsuit
               against America Online Inc., charging that the
               company's service violated the accessibility law (see
               story). 

               "What we need is achievable; what we are asking for is
               reasonable," said Gary Wunder, a programmer/analyst
               at the University of Missouri and a board member of the
               National Federation of the Blind. 

               Wunder described his own work-related efforts to use
               software that isn't adapted to needs of the blind. For
               instance, some key project-management software uses
               color codes to identify critical projects, making it
               difficult for him to use the software, he said. 

               "I took a demotion from manager to programmer
               because of this kind of software," he said. 

               Judy Brewer, director of the Web Accessibility Initiative
               at the World Wide Web Consortium, told the committee
               that ADA compliance costs are negligible and that
               "much of Web accessibility is a matter of good design." 

               But Dennis Hayes, the creator of the Hayes modem and
               now chairman of the U.S. Internet Industry Association,
               urged the committee to focus on voluntary efforts
               through standards bodies, rather than on regulation. 

               "It will take years to work out in courts how the ADA
               will apply," said Hayes. "In those same years, the
               standards can proceed much more rapidly." 

               Moreover, Hayes said webmasters lack the experience
               and tools to create Web sites that meet the needs of
               the disabled. 

               The legal issues remain to be sorted out. 

               Elizabeth Dorminey, an attorney at Wimberly, Lawson
               Steckel Nelson & Schneider PC in Athens, Ga., said the
               ADA applies to private entities that provide "public
               accommodations" -- a term that doesn't include the
               Internet, Internet service providers or private Web
               sites. 


-- 
Kathleen Anderson
State Comptroller's Office
Hartford, Connecticut 06106
voice: (860) 702-3355   fax: (860) 702-3634
e-mail: kathleen.anderson@po.state.ct.us
URL OSC: http://www.osc.state.ct.us
URL ACCESS: http://www.cmac.state.ct.us/access
Received on Wednesday, 9 February 2000 20:18:40 GMT

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