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Happy 25th Anniversary, ADA! What’s Next for Web Accessibility?

  • Happy 25th Anniversary, ADA! What's Next for Web Accessibility?

    Today marks the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the landmark disability law in the United States. This week, events all over the nation commemorate 25 years of progress in protecting civil rights for people with disabilities. But while we celebrate that progress, we recognize there is more to be done to improve accessibility, especially online.

    The Americans with Disabilities Act

    On July 26, 1990, the ADA made it illegal to discriminate against a person for housing, education, or employment on the basis of a physical or mental disability.

    The bill introduced building codes to accommodate people with limited mobility issues, prompting the creation of wheelchair ramps and cut curbs.

    It established the need for institutions to provide “reasonable accommodations” and offer an “equivalent experience” for disabled people in their facilities. The ADA makes it possible for disabled people to attend college, take public transportation, visit museums and movie theaters, and otherwise go about their lives freely.

    The ADA & Web Accessibility Lawsuits

    The ADA was passed before the rise of the Internet, so it doesn’t directly address the issue of an accessible web. Websites and software can prove difficult or impossible for people with hearing loss, vision loss, or limited dexterity to use.

    The more we rely on the web for communication, entertainment, employment, and education, the more people with disabilities are at a disadvantage if they are unable to access those resources.

    In principle, the ADA protects the civil rights of a disabled person, and that should extend to the internet. But the specifics on execution are hazy. This led to a slew of web accessibility lawsuits citing violation of the ADA, such as a FedEx suit in 2014 and the Harvard and MIT lawsuit in 2015.

    In the latter case, the United States Department of Justice released a statement of interest promoting a clear precedent for the ADA to require accessibility for digital resources. The DOJ intends to issue new notices of public rulemaking to further clarify how the ADA affects web accessibility.

    PLEDGE ON! to the ADA 25th Anniversary

    What’s next for the ADA? Another 25 years of progress, says the advocates behind PLEDGE ON!

    PLEDGE ON! is a campaign to collect 25,000 signatures in support of a renewed commitment to the ADA for the next 25 years. Individuals, organizations, and faith communities are encouraged to sign the pledge. PLEDGE ON is an acronym for “people leading and ensuring diversity, gaining experience and opportunities now and beyond!”

    The pledge states:

    “The ADA has expanded opportunities for Americans with disabilities by reducing barriers and changing perceptions, and increasing full participation in community life. However, the full promise of the ADA will only be reached if we remain committed to continue our efforts to fully implement the ADA.”

    Expand opportunities and PLEDGE ON! Commit for another 25 years…and beyond! ADAanniversary.org

    Teaching Accessibility

    Teaching Accessibility launched last week to herald a new era of digital accessibility. Its purpose is explained on the Teach Accessibility website:

    “All technology companies that have worked on accessibility have faced a similar challenge of preparing designers, engineers and researchers to think and build inclusively….Given this shared challenge, industry, academia and advocacy have now come together to create models for teaching and training students of technology to create accessible experiences.”

    Partners in Teaching Accessibility include universities like Stanford and Carnegie Mellon, disability groups like the American Association of People with Disabilities, and enterprise tech companies like Yahoo, Adobe, Microsoft, LinkedIn, and Facebook.

    Accessibility must become mainstream.

    These organizations are united in their belief that in order to create a fair, inclusive digital world, “accessibility must become mainstream.”

    Teaching Accessibility aims to raise awareness for web accessibility and emphasize inclusive design skills in education and on the job.

    Tech companies promise to include standardized language in job descriptions to highlight the necessity of accessible design for new hires. This incentivizes web developers to prioritize accessibility as a core design skill. Once accessible design becomes ubiquitous, the web will be a much more inclusive place.

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