Proposed ADA Regulations Address Technological Advances

The Justice Department has proposed new Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) regulations in four technology-related areas: 1) web accessibility, 2) Next Generation 911, 3) captioning and video description in movie theatres, and 4) equipment and furniture.  The four Advanced Notices of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRMs) were to be published in the Federal Register on July 26 and can be viewed on the ADA website.

Attorney General Eric Holder noted that much of the technological advances in these areas were unimaginable 20 years ago and that it was necessary to update ADA regulations and compliance codes. In particular, state and local governments, businesses, educational institutions, and other ADA-covered entities are increasingly providing information, goods, and services to the public online; however, many of those entities' websites are not accessible by persons with disabilities. The Department will seek input as to how a workable framework for website access can be developed that provides individuals with disabilities access to information, programs, and services provided on the web without requiring changes that would undermine the unique character of the online universe or its transformative impact on everyday life.

The proposed rulemaking comes on the heels of a joint letter from the DOJ and the U.S. Department of Education last month "expressing concern" that colleges and universities were using electronic book readers ("e-books" or "e-readers"), that lacked an accessible text-to-speech function, and noting that - absent accommodations or modifications permitting visually impaired individuals to receive all the educational benefits provided by the devices - requiring the use of such a technology was discrimination prohibited by the ADA. The DOJ has already entered into settlement agreements with some colleges and universities that have used Amazon.com Inc.'s Kindle DX as part of a pilot study with Amazon. The Kindle has a "Read to Me" text-to-speech capability, but it does not extend to the device's navigation controls that would permit a visually impaired reader to find a book on the device and begin the "Read to Me" function.  Amazon has announced that it is developing audible navigation controls as well as an extra-large font for the visually impaired, which should be available in 2011. The National Federation for the Blind, whose suit against the University of Arizona spurred the DOJ/DOE letter, has noted that, of the e-readers manufactured by Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Sony, and Apple, only Apple's iPad provides audible feedback for its navigation controls.

Sources:

U.S. Department of Justice: Department of Justice Announces Plans to Prepare New ADA Regulations

Jessica Mintz, boston.com: Amazon works to make Kindle more accessible

Marc Parry, chronicle.com: Inaccessible E-Readers May Run Afoul of the Law, Feds Warn Colleges