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What's the Law?

In 1998, Congress amended the U.S. Rehabilitation Act of 1973 with Section 508, which requires that individuals with disabilities, who are members of the public seeking information or services from a Federal agency, have access to and use of information and data that is comparable to that provided to the public who are not individuals with disabilities, unless an undue burden would be imposed on the agency.

The Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board (Access Board) published Web accessibility standards for compliance with Section 508 on Dec. 21, 2000. The enforcement date of the standards is June 21, 2001. Anyone with a disability who does not have "comparable access to and use of information and data" on a Federal agency Web site may file a complaint or civil action against the Federal department or agency that has not complied.

Section 504 of the U.S. Rehabilitation Act of 1973 mandates that institutions receiving federal funds provide equal access to their programs. Many state-funded public universities receive Assistive Technology grants, which the Department of Education claims makes them accountable to the Web accessibility standards set forth in Section 508 of the U.S. Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

Already lawsuits have been filed against various non-Federal agencies using the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). In a 1996 statement, the Department of Justice stated that the ADA will cover government entities on the Internet as well as those providers whose services are deemed to be "public accommodations."

More Information on Laws:

Section 504 of the U.S. Rehabilitation Act of 1973

  1. Establishes that disability rights are a form of civil rights and therefore covered by the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
  2. Mandates that institutions receiving federal funds provide equal access to their programs.
  3. Uses total institutional budget (not just the computing area's budget) in measuring the "reasonableness" of required accommodations for accessibility.

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990

  1. Wide-ranging legislation intended to make American society more accessible to people with disabilities.
  2. Extends the requirements of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 to all public and commercial facilities, with few exceptions, not just those that receive federal funding.
  3. Requires that every institution receiving federal funds establish and maintain a plan of compliance.

Lawsuits

Connecticut Attorney General's Office -- in April 2000, the National Federation for the Blind (NFB) filed an Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) lawsuit against the Connecticut Attorney General's Office, which provided links to four inaccessible online tax filing services on its Internal Revenue Service's official Web site.

The four tax filing services (Intuit, HDVest, H&R Block and CioCia) voluntarily agreed to begin making their Web sites accessible to the sight-impaired in time for the next tax season.

Connecticut Attorney General's Office Press Release

Bank of America -- in March 2000, an Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) agreement was reached between the California Council for the Blind and Bank of America to install 2,500 talking Automatic Teller Machines (ATMs) in Florida and California and to ensure its Web sites and online banking services are accessible to people using screen-readers.

America Online -- In November 1999, the National Federation for the Blind (NFB) filed an Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) lawsuit against America Online (AOL) after AOL failed to alter its inaccessible software to allow compatibility with screen readers.

According to an agreement on July 26, 2000, between the NFB and AOL, AOL will continue its existing efforts to ensure that the next version of AOL's software (AOL 6.0) is compatible with screen reader assistive technology which makes it accessible to blind users. AOL plans to release the new AOL 6.0 software in fall 2000.

NFB has the right to renew their ADA action against AOL and may do so as early as July 26, 2001. Therefore, the agreement should not be regarded as a settlement.

More on the AOL lawsuit