A recent decision by the Supreme Court regarding the expanded application of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1991 has rocked the tech world.
Website designers and owners are thrown into pandemonium over the application of a lower Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that the ADA applies to all disabled persons, including blind and hearing impaired. The long-range effect will be crucial to every business that has a customer-oriented website.
Let’s start with the basic premise of the ADA. The law guarantees equal opportunity and accessibility by all individuals with disabilities to all facets of public life. “Thou shalt not discriminate,” as my college professor insisted. The first thing everyone asks is: how can a blind person be discriminated against when using the Internet? Isn’t the web all visual?
Traditionally the ADA has applied to design, construction, additions, site alterations, buildings and virtually anything that an average person could use or access.
Mostly via litigation by physically restricted persons, the law has been extended virtually to all elements of American life. In 1991, who would have thought the law would apply to gender neutral single stall restrooms or accessibility to public electric car chargers?
The verdicts are still out but web accessibility should allow all to accomplish a reasonable usability level. Many browsing the Internet have temporary or permanent disabilities.
By the way, the word “handicapped” is out. “Disabled” is the term used by ADA.gov.
As we age, more Americans are experiencing age-related issues that limit their social outreach and they need the internet even more. Various levels of blindness limits users’ access to basic internet services, let alone the virtual enjoyment of visiting a winery or Napa Valley experience.
One solution is to adapt a screen reader program. These are software apps specifically developed for the blind or visually impaired.
A screen reader transmits displayed text from a computer screen in a form that visually impaired users can process, including tactile, auditory or a combination. The most basic screen readers will not make blind users computer geeks, but will provide much needed independence.
Most screen readers have a synthetic voice that reads text aloud. Others communicate data or images via a separate braille display. More advanced screen readers communicate through the user’s fingers of a displayed screen text. Such hardware can be very expensive.
There are a few free or low-cost accessible screen reader software programs available: NVD Access, Serotek, Systems Access, Apple Voice Over, Orca or BRLTTY. Each is different and each has limitations, so study them to see which works best for your business.
Ultimately, we all benefit when have universal access to parking spaces, ramps, restrooms and the Internet. None of us know when we could become physically challenged, but we can make it easier and legally safer for all.
Chris D. Craiker, AIA/NCARB, is a Napa architect with Craiker Architects & Planners. He has been designing sustainable buildings for more than 40 years.