This article from the Christian Science Monitor brings up a rather interesting question about states meeting ADA requirements. The article specifically addresses the need for accessibility in public accommodations — physical buildings. The conclusion drawn in the article is that states should meet Federal standards.
Many states and local governments do voluntarily comply with the provisions of Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act. They recognize that when it comes to their websites, maximum accessiblity by constituents is critical. With the trend toward e-government applications — which save both constituents and government staff time and money — access is doubly important. For these government agencies, accessibility makes good business sense. What I find perplexing is that commercial entities don’t feel the same way.
According to this press release from the National Council on Disability, the provisions of the Americans with Disability Act apply to websites as well. Okay. That’s great. This recommendation was made in July, 2003. In October, 2002, a federal judge ruled that the ADA applies to physical space only…not your website.
It’s arguable that a website is a public accommodation. If it’s a place of business, how could it be anything else? For example, you cannot get into your car, drive a short distance, park, and walk through the doors of a store called Amazon.com. There is no such animal. The store is entirely virtual. In order for Amazon to accommodate the public (and I’m not saying their site isn’t accessible — I know there were issues in the past years, but they have made great strides in improving accessibility), they must make their site accessible from a purely bits and bytes perspective.
Getting back to the judge’s ruling, her argument was because Congress so carefully spelled out what it meant by public accommodation, websites are, by definition, excluded. Well, in 1990, the Internet wasn’t ubiquitous. Sure, Congress has been slow to act on updating this Act to reflect the modern world, but it surprises me that businesses would be so opposed to making basic accommodations. What, exactly, is the logic behind alienating even one potential client? Especially when achieving the lowest level of compliance with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) isn’t that difficult?
Accessibility does not need to be a burden on business. Opening doors, both physical and virtual to all people (and it’s a fact that improving your website’s accessibility also makes it easier for users of other technologies, such as cell phones, to access your site), should be a business no-brainer. So, my question is: what is stopping business from embracing the WCAG? What is stopping business from building accessibility into their Internet strategy? And what can we do to change this?