When the Americans with Disabilities Act was signed into law in 1990, there were very few people who had any idea of the role the Internet would play in the lives of Americans a mere 20 years later. Terms such as web or web site cannot be found in the law or its implementing regulations. However, as use of the Internet has grown, so has the debate surrounding whether the ADA and other disability rights laws apply to the Internet, and if so, just what these laws require of cyber business operators.
One voice that has not been heard much amidst this debate is that of the United States Department of Justice. ACB and a number of other disability advocates have repeatedly queried that department's Civil Rights Division to support our contention that web sites are covered by the ADA. For some time, the response has been that the issue was under review. On April 15, that changed, and the change sent up cheers from disability rights advocates nationwide. During remarks at a disability law symposium in Baltimore, Md., Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights, made it clear that he intends to see that web sites and other aspects of e-commerce are covered by the ADA. This is a significant development with major implications for the fight to increase accessibility. Because of this, I decided to share some of the Assistant Attorney General's remarks with you. His entire address was wide ranging and included comments on the Civil Rights Division's efforts to enforce a number of disability rights laws, but the excerpt below focuses only on the issues related to access to technology. I hope you will agree that this is a very positive step forward, and look forward to seeing the results of the commitment it espouses as we move closer to and beyond the 20th anniversary of the ADA's enactment.
Excerpt from the remarks of Assistant Attorney General Thomas E. Perez:
"Technology has revolutionized our economy and culture. It has made communicating, obtaining information, entertainment, education and goods easier and more efficient. But many of these technologies, from web sites to cell phones, from ticket kiosks to TV set-top devices, are either in whole or in part inaccessible to persons who are blind and other people with disabilities.
"And though we have seen some voluntary efforts by companies once the matter is brought to their attention, far too many companies choose to forgo what I believe must be a profitable investment in making their products and services accessible to all consumers. We have a population that is aging, and making products accessible will only increase their customer base.
"The technology to make electronics accessible exists, and is relatively affordable to implement.
"Let me be clear. It is and has been the position of the Department of Justice since the late 1990s that Title III of the ADA applies to web sites. We intend to issue regulations under our Title III authority in this regard to help companies comply with their obligations to provide equal access.
"Companies that do not consider accessibility in their web site or product development will come to regret that decision, because we intend to use every tool at our disposal to ensure that people with disabilities have equal access to technology and the worlds that technology opens up."
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