The information contained below is intended to be general and broad. Specific conditions could apply to your website not considered by WeCo. Please seek legal counsel if you have any specific concerns regarding your legal obligations.
United States Laws
The following sections cover key US laws pertinent to web accessibility.
Rehabilitation Act of 1973
The Rehabilitation Act of 1973was the first major legislative effort to secure an equal playing field for individuals with disabilities. This legislation provides a wide range of services for persons with physical and cognitive disabilities. Two sections within the Rehabilitation Act, as amended, have impact on accessible web design. These are Sections 504 and 508. Section 508 of the act, as now amended, provides for us a blueprint of just what is intended in Section 504. Thus, Section 504 provides the context of the law and Section 508 provides the direction.
Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Actis a civil rights law. It was the first civil rights legislation in the United States designed to protect individuals with disabilities from discrimination based upon their disability status. The nondiscrimination requirements of the law apply to employers and organizations that receive federal financial assistance. This statute was intended to prevent intentional or unintentional discrimination based on a person’s disability. Section 504, 29 U.S.C.§794, states:
“No otherwise qualified individual with a disability in the United States… shall, solely by reason of her or his disability, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”
Therefore, programs receiving federal funds may not discriminate against those with disabilities based on their disability status. All government agencies, federally-funded projects, K-12 schools, postsecondary entities (state colleges, universities, and vocational training schools) fall into this category.
The Reauthorized Rehabilitation Act of 1998 included amendments to Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act. This section bars the Federal government from procuring electronic and information technology (E&IT) goods and services that are not fully accessible to those with disabilities. This would include the services of web design since the Internet was specifically mentioned. In 2000, with the help of the Electronic and Information Technology Access Advisory Committee (EITAAC), the Access Board created the first set of accessibility standards for Federal E&IT.
- State governments may be held accountable for complying with Section 508. All states receive funding under the Assistive Technology Act of 1998. To gain access to this funding, each state must assure the federal government they will implement all conditions of Section 508 within their state entities (including higher education). Many states have codified Section 508 to be state law (e.g., Arizona, Nebraska, and Wisconsin), which requires state institutions to comply with these requirements.
- Businesses must comply with Section 508 when supplying Electronic and Information Technology goods and services to the federal government. The influence of web accessibility on business and industry is more significant when the demands of a client, or potential client, like the US federal government, must be met.
Americans with Disabilities Act
The Americans with Disabilities Act(ADA), passed in 1990, is civil rights legislation governed by the Department of Justice. The goal of this law is to make sure that people with disabilities can have an equal opportunity to participate in programs, services, and activities. It is important to note that the ADA does not deal directly with the accessibility of the Internet. There are, however, two major sections in the ADA that may apply to web accessibility. These are:
- Title II, which states that communications with persons with disabilities must be “as effective as communications with others” [28 C.F.R. ss 35.160 (a)] and
- Title III, which deals with public accommodation of people with disabilities.
The cases such as NFB suit against AOL and the NAD suit against Harvard and MIT can be used to discuss whether or not the ADA applies to the Internet. The apparent contradictions around different legal cases make it difficult to know how to interpret and apply the rulings. Nevertheless, it is clear that inaccessible Web sites have been the target of lawsuits in recent years.
Air Carrier Access Act
On November 12, 2013, the US Department of Transportation (DOT) published a final rule that amends its rules implementing the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) to require U.S. air carriers and foreign air carriers to make their Websites that market air transportation to the general public in the United States accessible to individuals with disabilities. More specifically, the provisions:
- Requires U.S. and foreign carriers that operate at least one aircraft having a seating capacity of more than 60 passengers, and own or control a primary Web site that markets air transportation to consumers in the United States to ensure that public-facing pages on their primary Web site are accessible to individuals with disabilities.
- Requires ticket agents that are not small businesses to disclose and offer Web-based fares to passengers that indicate that they are unable to use an agent’s Web site due to a disability.
- Requires carriers to ensure that Web pages on their primary Web sites associated with core travel information and services conform to all Level A and AA success criteria of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 within two years of the rule’s effective date and all other Web pages on their primary Web sites are conformant within three years of the rule’s effective date (December 12, 2013).
- Requires carriers to test the usability of their accessible primary Web sites in consultation with individuals or organizations representing visual, auditory, tactile, and cognitive disabilities.