Dedicated to Improving the Lives of Blind and Visually Impaired People

Accessibility Legislation in the Digital Age

by Connor Courtien, RDPFS Intern

While the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 ensures that physical sites adhere to certain accessibility standards, this protection against the discrimination of those with disabilities does not clearly extend to websites. This is a contentious issue, as some courts, particularly in the Circuit Courts of Appeals, have ruled in favor of digital spaces and services being covered by the ADA, while other courts have determined that this is only the case if they’re connected to a physical site. As more government services are becoming fully digitized, it poses increasing concerns that if these services aren’t mandated to be accessible, they might prohibit use by those with disabilities. This is of particular concern for those with visual impairments, as many rely on assistive technology like screen-readers to navigate websites. If these sites are not designed with these features in mind, they won’t be accessible. Two states, Maryland and Colorado, have already put measures in place to fill this gap left by the ambiguous protections of the ADA. Maryland, through its Nonvisual Access Clause, has mandated that any new or upgraded technology in the state has equal access for those with and without visual impairments, ensuring that all state government websites are fully accessible. Colorado has turned to the Aira app, providing the service free of charge, allowing users to connect with agents to help them navigate all of their government sites. While individual states providing accessibility protections is great news, fortunately there is also an impetus to advance digital accessibility on the federal level, as well. Senator Tammy Duckworth introduced the Websites and Software Applications Accessibility Act last year, a bill that would require employers and public entities that offer goods or services to have accessible websites, even if they have no physical counterpart. To learn more about the ADA in the digital age and how its gaps in protections are being bridged at both the state and federal levels read this article from StateScoop on the need to update legislation.