Digital Accessibility Legal Update: ADA Anniversary Edition

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This is an article about recent digital accessibility cases. Many cases settle and make the web easier for disabled people to use. Recent settlements will make it possible for blind people to cast absentee ballots. A recent court order will require sign language interpreters for important press conferences by the governor of New York. The Americans with Disabilities Act is the foundation for these case. It was passed 30 years ago.

three disabled people crawling up the steps of the capitol as part of a protest to get the ADA past. Black woman in foreground, white man in background

[Updated August 7 2020 to include pending Gimlet podcast accessibility case and settlement of Florida voting rights case.]

July 26 marks the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Congratulations to the disabled advocates and disability rights organizations who fought, organized, and marched to get this law passed. (One protest was the March 12, 1990 “Capitol Crawl” shown in the image taken by Tom Olin accompanying this post.)

The ADA was passed just one year after Sir Tim Berners-Lee invented the world wide web. In 1990 when then-president George Bush signed the law there were exactly zero websites. Two years later there were ten. And today? Over 1,786,367, 115. [Website numbers found here.]

Because of the brilliance of the disability organizers and bill drafters, the ADA has provided a strong foundation for advancing accessibility in the digital world. Sweeping provisions designed to ensure full participation for disabled people in all aspects of society work to ensure participation in a connected world of websites, mobile applications and other technologies.

As early as 1996 the United States Department of Justice recognized the importance of web accessibility. Read DOJ Civil Rights head Deval Patrick’s 1996 letter to Senator Tom Harkin on web access. In 2000 the DOJ told an appellate court that “Commercial business providing services solely over the internet is subject to the ada’s prohibition against discrimination on the basis of disability.”

And in 2000 I helped negotiate the country’s very first web accessibility lawsuit between Bank of America and its blind customers and the California Council of the Blind.  Eight years later the Target website case settled,  and four years later there was a favorable court order in the Netflix captioning case.

The rest, as they say, is history. (Some of which can be found in the Legal Update Tab and the Settlements Tab on this website.)

For this post I’ve gathered some of the more recent court orders and settlements that advance digital accessibility as well as some pending cases we’re following.

Thank you to the ADA (and the disability community that made it possible) for establishing such a strong legal foundation for digital inclusion.

Recent Digital Accessibility Settlements and Court Orders

Unfortunately, I cannot report on settlements or court orders from most of the web accessibility cases filed because of a lack of transparency on how those cases are litigated. I wrote about the ethics of those cases a year ago this week in an article titled Ethics In The Digital Accessibility Legal Space: AdA Enforcement Cases Or Something Else?.

A year later I’m still concerned about those cases. If the ADA was a person I’d apologize for how my profession in those cases has used the law in ways that don’t put disabled people first. Fortunately, the ADA is strong enough to withstand improper treatment. Its continued strength and value for digital accessibility is clearly evident in the cases above.

Pending Digital Accessibility Cases I’m Following

Happy 30th anniversary to the Americans with Disabilities Act. May you continue to protect the rights of disabled people for full inclusion in the digital world for decades to come.

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