Throughout your life, you’ve probably heard people refer to the “ADA.” While this can mean many things (including the American Dental Association) on this blog it’s used to refer to the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. This Act is really important because it helps protect and promote causes pertaining to disabled Americans.

Anyway, the Whitehouse’s page also has a helpful section on how to protect your ADA rights. Hopefully, that’s not something that you’ll ever need to do, but if it is I’ll just leave this page here for you, Enforcement Guidance: Reasonable Accommodation and Undue Hardship Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (also, I’m sorry things are rough and I hope they get better).

What Is the Purpose of the ADA?

Living with a disability is never easy. Whether it is a lifelong issue, or a situational disability, there are more people in the US living with disabilities than you might think. The best summary that I could find to explain why the Act exists (beyond the fact that a surprising number of people in America are living with a disability) is from the ADA National Network website.

They explain, “The purpose of the law is to make sure that people with disabilities have the same rights and opportunities as everyone else. The ADA gives civil rights protections to individuals with disabilities similar to those provided to individuals on the basis of race, color, sex, national origin, age, and religion. It guarantees equal opportunity for individuals with disabilities in public accommodations, employment, transportation, state and local government services, and telecommunications.”[1] Basically, no one should be treated differently or excluded based on their disability.

A lot of you probably know about this Act because there are certain questions that employers cannot ask you during the hiring process. Interestingly, a website exists explaining what the ADA prevents and permits regarding these employment questions. If you would like to learn more about what employers can ask and still be ADA compliant, there is a helpful guide on the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s website.

The ADA isn’t the only Act that covers disabled Americans. Other relevant legislation is:

  • The Rehabilitation Act
  • Voting Accessibility for the Elderly and Handicapped Act
  • Fair Housing Act
  • Air Carrier Access Act

If you want to learn more about these and other Acts, the document, A Guide to Disability Rights Laws, provides helpful insight. Please note that this document was compiled in 2009 and some information may have changed with updated legislation. Still, it will give you a good sense of the details regarding each Act, as well as helpful links you can follow to find out more information.

Who Is Covered by the ADA?

Well, that’s a little vague. The Act does not specify exactly who it covers, “To be protected by the ADA, one must have a disability, which is defined by the ADA as a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a person who has a history or record of such an impairment, or a person who is perceived by others as having such an impairment.

The ADA does not specifically name all of the impairments that are covered.”[2] I suppose that’s necessary because there are many types of disabilities and there needs to be room in the Act to accommodate everyone who needs it. After all, how helpful would an inclusive Act be if it inherently excluded people?

How Does This Apply to Digital Accessibility?

First, it might be helpful to read this summary of Title III of the ADA (stay with me it’s not as boring as it sounds), “Public accommodations must comply with basic nondiscrimination requirements that prohibit exclusion, segregation, and unequal treatment. They also must comply with specific requirements related to architectural standards for new and altered buildings; reasonable modifications to policies, practices, and procedures; effective communication with people with hearing, vision, or speech disabilities; and other access requirements. Additionally, public accommodations must remove barriers in existing buildings where it is easy to do so without much difficulty or expense, given the public accommodation’s resources.”[3] Whew! Still with me?

Basically, what that part of the Act means is that everyone needs to be able to access public accommodations. Have you ever been to a building that required climbing stairs to enter? If there wasn’t also a ramp for people with mobile impairments to use, then the building owners were not complying with the architectural standards mentioned above. Making a website that is not accessible is pretty much equivalent to building a store without an accessibility ramp. It’s just ignoring the needs of a whole group of people.

In fact, the Seyfarth ADA Title III News & Insights Blog discusses the issue in their post, New York City Enacts Accessibility Standards for Government Websites. The blog authors note that, “The new City law underscores that the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 Level AA (“WCAG 2.0 AA”) is increasingly becoming the de facto standard for website accessibility, despite the continued lack of any regulations from the U.S. Department of Justice (“DOJ”) setting a legally-required standard for state and local governments under Title II of the ADA, or for public accommodations (i.e. private businesses) under Title III.”[5]

It’s good to see that the City is taking steps to increase their accessibility, even though the DOJ hasn’t developed any specific legal stipulations requiring them to do so.

Legislation Isn’t Enough

Even though steps are being made through legislation, the fight to make the world a more accessible place is going to take time and effort. It isn’t something that will happen overnight, and all of the regulations, acts, and laws in the world won’t ensure 100% accessibility or compliance. What we need to remember is that legislation like the ADA is in place to act as a springboard for people to build upon. The ADA covers the basic rights of people, but it’s going to take a lot more than that to build a world that is universally accessible.

One of the ways to do that is by creating websites that everyone can use. It should not take legislation and potential litigation to spur people to create websites that are accessible. However, realistically in some cases it does take a lot to make people care enough to change.

While the legislation is catching up to people’s needs, why not lead the accessibility charge? Make your website WCAG 2.0 compliant, install the UserWay widget, and stay current on the digital accessibility conversation on social media. Just a few small steps toward accessibility can make a huge difference!