ADA Goes Digital for Its Sweet Sixteen
Statement from Mark Richert, Director, Public Policy
Washington, DC (July 26, 2006)—Today our country is celebrating the sweet sixteen of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the landmark legislation that revolutionized life for people with disabilities. The next revolution is to ensure that ADA is relevant to the digital age, including access to ticket kiosks, retail check-out terminals, and especially web sites. Important steps have been taken, such as the installation of check-out terminals by Wal-Mart with accessible keypads for PIN entry. But, much more needs to be done.
Right now people with vision loss are being shut out from popular commercial web sites because so few businesses follow accessibility guidelines for the web. Imagine not being able to easily shop online, search for important medical information, book travel arrangements, or apply for a job through a popular career site. This is especially frustrating for people with disabilities who have fewer transportation options, and often need to use an online store or business to make necessary purchases for daily life or to address confidential medical, financial, or other concerns.
The US Department of Justice and the Presidentially-appointed National Council on Disability have said repeatedly that the ADA covers accessibility of commercial web sites for people with disabilities, but too few adhere to it. When web pages are not designed with accessibility in mind, people with vision loss and other disabilities are shut out from the goods and services on the site.
The good news is businesses can easily improve the accessibility of their sites with a few simple modifications—such as labeling graphics, and links, and following other accessible design techniques. And many are. Just last week, Google launched a search tool, Google Accessible Search, that ranks results based on the accessibility of the site. Yahoo! has also taken steps toward improving the accessibility of its site by adding headings to the site, which allows people who are blind or have low vision to easily navigate the site using screen reader commands.
But businesses need to do more. Consumers in California, for example, have taken Target to court over the retail giant's reluctance to make their online store open to people with disabilities. And with the population aging, and the number of people with vision loss numbers expected to multiply in decades to come, more and more people will need businesses to have accessible web sites.
As the world goes digital, so is the ADA. Businesses and major online retailers must start building "electronic ramps" so that people with disabilities can access their sites with ease.
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