Disabled Americans demand digital versions of wheelchair ramps

Advocates for the blind and deaf are suing over shopping websites, saying they must be as accessible as brick-and-mortar stores.

Companies have a legal obligation to make their websites as accessible as their stores, according to advocates for disabled Americans – who are demanding digital versions of wheelchair ramps and self-opening doors. The Wall Street Journal reports.

The 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires equal access to "public accommodations,” but several courts have dismissed claims that the act applies to the Internet.

Still, the National Federation of the Blind and the National Association of the Deaf have won legal victories after federal judges ruled that the law applies to shopping websites when they act as a gateway to a brick-and-mortar store.

Target established a $6 million fund for settlement claims and agreed to modify its website; Netflix agreed to make 100% of its content captioned by 2014.

The U.S. Department of Justice is expected to issue new regulations later this year that could take a broad view of the ADA's jurisdiction. Websites could be required to include:

  • spoken descriptions of photos and text boxes for the blind
  • captions and transcriptions of multimedia features for the deaf
  • plain language and strong design for people with cognitive disabilities
  • navigation without the use of a mouse for people with motor disabilities

Companies such as eBay, Monster.com, Travelocity, and Ticketmaster have worked with the NFB -- which represents 25 million adults with vision loss -- to make their sites easier to navigate.

The costs of making a website accessible vary based on the complexity of a website, and it is much cheaper to build accessibility features into a new site than to retrofit an old one…

Companies can expect to pay about 10% of their total website costs on retrofitting. But if they phase in accessibility as they naturally upgrade their website, they usually spend much less -- between 1% and 3%.

[Wall Street Journal]

Image by miggslives via Flickr

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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