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American Disabilities Act

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"The American Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in employment, programs and services provided by state and local governments, goods and services provided by private companies, and in commercial facilities." - US Department of Justice ADA Page.  

Several other laws apply to access by individuals with disabilities. See Accessibility Law Chart.

Pop quiz! Does the American Disabilities Act (ADA) apply to the Internet? That is actually a pretty complicated question. Sometimes maybe yes; sometimes maybe no. The big question might be, does the ADA apply to commercial ecommerce websites. A Department of Justice letter from 1996 concluded that it does. Others are less sure, pointing out that the ADA and its regulations were written before the Internet really took off.

The ADA prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities. It applies to

  • Places of employment with 15 or more employees (Title I),
  • State and local governments (Title II),
  • Public transportation (Title II), [MARTA]
  • Places of public accommodations such as restaurants, stores, hotels, theaters, and fitness clubs (Title III), and
  • Telecommunications services (Title IV).
  • Generally, the ADA requires accommodation of individuals with disabilities where such accommodations would not impose an undue burden nor require a fundamental alteration. ADA obligations may not apply to legacy systems or accommodations where making them accessible would impose an undue burden. However, on a going forward basis, where an entity can make choices about new products or new accommodations to construction, concern for individuals with disabilities must be incorporated.

    For example, a store (a place of public accommodation) is under a requirement to ensure the accessibility of the physical store. The store may not exclude, discriminate or provide unequal treatment based on disabilities. This could mean that accessibility must be taken into account with architectural design, such as wheel chair ramps and elevators. The store must also provide effective communication with the public, which might mean offering of a Braille menu or having someone on staff available to read the menu or the price tags to individuals with visual disabilities.

    What is a disability? This issue has been hammered out by the federal courts and Congress, which have concluded that mental illness such as schizophrenia is a disability but that drug addiction is not; in addition, social ills such as pedophilia, gambling addition, kleptomania, and pyromania are not. A disability is defined by the ADA as

    (A) a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities of such individual; (B) a record of having such an impairment; or (C) being regarded as having such an impairment. [ADA Sec. 3(2)]

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