Dennis, thanks for that link, an interesting opinion, and one that flies in
the face of several court cases throughout the US (in particular Florida a
few years ago)

> The New York State Attorney General offered a legal opinion 
> that all web site originating within that state are subject 
> to Section 508 of the 1973 Rehabilitation Act  

I read that and I thought "huh? That can't be right".  And reading the page
on the link provided, it turns out that statement isn't quite right.  The NY
State AG said that 

"the Americans With Disabilities Act requires that private web sites be
accessible to blind and visually impaired Internet users."

Two things of note here:

First, it is the ADA that is cited, NOT Section 508 of the US Vocational
Rehabilitation Act.  Section 508 is NOT applicable as the VRA applies
soleley to US Federal agencies (and some organisations funded primarely with
federal money, such as some universities), it always has, and always will.

This is an important distinction, because the ADA does not mention anywhere
in its text that it covers access to the internet (It was written pre-1990
and signed on July 26, 1992).  Therefore, to state that the ADA applies also
to companies doing business over the internet is a point that can be argued.
In fact, while it seems logical that it *should* apply, that very argument
has been used several times to lose court cases and make bad precedents (I
don't have time to dig my archives for references, but if anyone's
interested, I'll be pleased to do so).

Since the ADA doesn't not mention the internet, it also does not provide
compliance guidelines for websites.  While it is logical that either WCAG or
508 would be followed, sadly, that's not how the law functions.

So we have a law that doesn't technically apply, despite the opinion of one
AG, and even if it did apply, there is no compliance schedule to guide
people (unlike for physical structures, such as ramps (prescribed gradient
of 1:12, or door width of clear opening width of 32", etc).

In my opinion, this is a positive statement by an AG, but one that will not
accomplish a whole lot.  Big splash in a small pond :(

Secondly, the AG makes reference to people who are blind and visually
impaired using the internet.  Which is good.  But what about all the *other*
disabilities?  What about folks with mobility impairments?  Those with
seizure disorders?  Cognitive disabilities? Etc...  People with disabilities
like that also have accessibility needs.

The problem with that statement is that it could be used *against*
accessibility.  The way "precedent" works, lawyers and courts look for
things that have been said before and use it to build up their cases (or
decisions in the case of a court).  It is easy to see how an attorney
defending a client with a non-accessible website could say something like
"Yes, but the NY State AG said that the ADA applied to blind user, without
mentioning any other disabilities, therefore, the AG's statement cannot be
used to support the fact that the ADA applies to all accessibility aspects
on the internet".  The good thing is, such a statement can't really be used
as a legal precedent, but it will certainly influence thinking.

Finally, that page speaks about "settlements".  If you do a bit of research
on the web, you'll notice that there are next to NO decisions in court cases
against businesses with non accessible court cases.  The few that do have
decisions are actually *against* accessibility.  In fact, I know of only one
case that was successfully won by the plaintiff, and this was in Australia
not in the US, against the Olympic Committee's website.  I would imagine
that there *are* more successful cases out there, just haven't heard of
them.  This does NOT mean that there aren't a lot of companies that are
sued, just that the majority will settle out of court.  This is good, at
least there may be some improvement out of it, but settlements can't be used
as legal precendents, which means that actual court cases still have nothing
to support the fact that the ADA applies to the internet (the situation may
be different in other countries, of course, as the ADA doesn't apply outside
the US [yes, I've had people tell me it applied worldwide!!!])

Please note, I'm not an attorney, nor do I pretend to be one :)  I am,
however, a person with a disability who has been doing a lot of grassroot
advocacy and work with/around the ADA, and web accessibility, for over a
decade now.

Cheers, I hope my long mail hasn't bored you to tears


The discussion list for

 for some hints on posting to the list & getting help

Reply via email to