On July 26, 1990, President George H. W. Bush signed the American Disabilities Act into law. The landmark civil rights legislation came after decades of activism in communities across the United States to prohibit discrimination and ensure better accommodations, thus a better quality of life, for those with disabilities. The passage of Section 504 the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 made discrimination against members of the disabled community by organizations and entities that receive federal funds illegal; the ADA built upon Section 504.
In 2008, President George W. Bush signed the ADA Amendments Act, which broadened the scope of the original law.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 61-million Americans live with a disability. In the southeastern U.S. more than a quarter of the population has a disability, meaning the region has the largest percentage of any in the country.
Individuals with permanent disabilities are likely the first a person envisions when thinking about the ADA, but everyone benefits at some point in their life from some form of accommodation provided by the law. If you’ve ever climbed a ramp while recovering from a broken leg or read the captions on a television inside a noisy restaurant, you’ve enjoyed the impact of the ADA.
As technology improves, so too does the ability to make events accessible to everyone. As the world tends to do more business online, the reach of accessibility laws continues to be tested. In late 2019, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal from national pizza chain Domino’s against making their website accessible to blind and low-vision patrons. The decision was spurred by a 2016 lawsuit by Guillermo Robles, a blind man who alleged he couldn’t see the company’s website even with screen reader software, and therefore could not order a pizza.
The Supreme Court’s refusal to take up the case upheld a lower court’s ruling that companies must make their websites accessible to the blind or vision-impaired.
The issue is one of many involving the internet and what a company, even if entirely online, must do to be accessible to those Americans with disabilities. The argument against providing accessible websites often boil down to semantics – that a website is not a storefront and therefore doesn’t have to follow ADA guidelines.
But there are times a customer is required to use a site and may be punished financially – say with additional fees – for not being able to. The Supreme Court’s decision to not take up the case may prove to be a pivotal moment in the online accessibility debate.
We’re three decades past the day more than 3,000 individuals gathered on the South Lawn of the White House to watch President Bush sign the American Disabilities Act into law, but ensuring accessibility in our communities is a continuing process. We at The Times would like to take a moment to recognize the importance of that moment and celebrate any efforts to make our country more inclusive to all of its citizens.