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Disabilities Act covers websites, says Nat'l Council

July 22, 2003 -- Does the Americans with Disabilities Act apply to commercial and private websites? Yes, says the National Council on Disability.

"The question not whether the ADA applies to the Internet, but whether its application is going to be managed in an orderly way, so as to minimize costs and maximize benefits for all, or whether, under the pretext of deregulation, we are going to leave the process to inconsistency, chaos and fear."

The Council is an independent federal agency making recommendations to the President and Congress on disability policy. NCD first proposed and then drafted the original Americans with Disabilities Act.

"The ADA provides equal opportunity in employment, public accommodations, transportation, government services and telecommunications for individuals with disabilities," the NCD notes in a policy paper released July 10. "The law, which requires government websites to be accessible to people with disabilities, should be equally applicable to commercial and private websites." The paper goes on to spell out exactly why this is, examining government policy and relevant case law.

The Dept. of Justice, it notes, has argued for coverage of the Internet under Title III of the ADA in several amicus briefs and... has negotiated or approved several complaint settlements supporting access in cases involving non-physical location issues such as brokerage or credit card statement accessibility.

"A number of opponents of internet access have charged that the law does not specifically mention the Internet," says the Council. They point out that reading the law "to exclude the Internet, when the Internet never existed and Congress never thought of it one way or the other at the time it passed the ADA, would be analogous to holding that freedom of speech does not extend to movies since movies were not mentioned in the First Amendment, or that the Fourth Amendment could not apply to the privacy of telephone conversations because telephone wires do not come within the ordinary meaning of the words 'persons, papers and effects' used in the Fourth Amendment."

"By and large, the courts have not been friendly toward ADA plaintiffs alleging job discrimination," says the paper, "and many of the cases upholding the employer's right to refuse a job or to refuse an accommodation are harsh, but nowhere in the litany of reasons advanced in these court decisions for why workers with disabilities should be rebuffed is there a suggestion that Internet-oriented or Web-based performance issues or work settings are per se off-limits to the law's reasonable accommodation and nondiscrimination requirements."

Much of the argument, both for and against applicability of the ADA to the Internet, "appears to involve people talking past one another," says NCD.

"In the past we have been used to talking about the digital divide," says the Council. "The time has come to rephrase our inquiry, and to embrace the digital future for Americans with disabilities as fully as we have sought to grasp it for the population as a whole.

The paper explains the practical and economic arguments that should guide those who may be called upon to apply the law, and recommends strategies for implementing website accessibility without disruption and with benefit to consumers and businesses alike.

Read When The Americans With Disabilities Act Goes Online: Application of the ADA to the Internet and the Worldwide Web

Also read the NCD's Righting the ADA

Mark Quigley, Director of Communications
National Council on Disability

EXPERTS IN web access:

The Georgia Institute of Technology's Center for Assistive Technology & Environmental Access formed the Information Technology Technical Assistance & Training Center to promote the development of accessible electronic & information technology. Reach them at 1-866-948-8282 (Voice/TTY) or by email at

Judy Brewer
Director of the World Wide Web Consortium
Web Access Initiative

Brewer's group develops web guidelines, conducts education and outreach on Web-accessibility solutions.

Kate Vanderheiden
Trace Research and Development Center
at the University of Wisconsin/Madison

Pam Gregory
Disabilities Issues Task Force
Federal Communications Commission
202/418-2498 or 202/418-1169 (TTY)



The following sites contain information that may be of interest. Please bear in mind that the information at these sites is not controlled by the Center for An Accessible society. Links to these sites do not imply that the Center supports either the organizations or the views presented.
One of the best overviews of the issue of web access we've found is the article "Locking Out the Disabled," from PC World magazine's September, 2000 issue. Lots of good links, too.

Learn how Georgia Tech's Center for Rehabilitation Technology's site was made accessible at

Judith M. Dixon, Ph.D., Consumer Relations Officer for the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped has written "Levelling The Road Ahead," a set of "Guidelines For The Creation Of WWW Pages Accessible To Blind And Visually Handicapped Users" -- online at

A rather comprehensive set of links for accessible website authoring can be found at

All of Camera Obscura's index of academic and scholarly resources are either easily navigatable with speech or have been extensively re-indexed so that the information they contain is easily and immediately accessible via speech-synthesis and/or text-based access. This document also contains speech-friendly submission forms for many standard reference works, as well as telephone and address directories and resources which are easily navigated using speech-synthesis and a text-based browser.

"Designing a More Usable World for All," from the Trace Center

Web Content Accessibility Guidelines

Fact Sheet for "Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 1.0"

Web Content Accessibility Guidelines

Web Content Accessibility Guideline Checkpoints

"Advocates of People With Disabilities Take Online Stores to Task" from the Jan. 1. New York Times

Story about new guidelines from The Associated Press.

The Digital Divide and People with Disabilities

Quick tips on making websites accessible from the Web Access Initiative







Expert sources

The Digital Divide

Section 508

The Web Access Initiative


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