David P. Rundle: Should ADA apply to Web?

08/30/2013 12:00 AM

08/29/2013 5:56 PM

Are the Internet’s commerce pages, such as Amazon and eBay, covered by the Americans With Disabilities Act? Should they be? Would it hurt small sites if they had to become accessible to those with hearing and vision difficulties?

Full disclosure: I have a site, thebriefcasesymphony.com, where you can order my poetry book. It is not ADA-accessible. I will need to address this, as it would be hypocritical not to. However, before commenting on making websites accessible to the disabled – which is easy to do – I’ll put this skirmish into historical context.

ADA became law in 1990, a generation ago. Ever since, businesses have argued against complying with it. At first, it was only the traditional brick-and-mortar stores fighting both the law and common sense. Now, cyberbusinesses have joined the war.

But if you think they have more original arguments than walk-in establishments, you are wrong. They are relying on one of the two favorites talking points that traditional establishments have used for more than two decades.

The first is this: A business owner might say he ought to get a pass because so few disabled customers frequent his establishment. But the reason so few people with disabilities frequent a store that is not accessible is because it’s not accessible. Remodel it so that it is, and of course more people with disabilities will frequent it. To those who claim otherwise, I say your pessimism is just an excuse for inaction.

The second argument against compliance with the ADA is that it’s just too costly. Some even say that the law forces owners out of business. This is false.

Tax breaks are available to offset the cost to traditional businesses. I don’t know if every state has such breaks, but for now the federal government does.

And if people with disabilities can easily enter a story and buy items or services, it stands to reason both sales and profits for the store will increase.

The cost also is very low for cyberfirms.

We have been told how innovative the worlds of high tech and the Internet are. Yet when it comes to accommodating the disabled, they sound anything but progressive and unbound by traditional thinking.

E-readers are yet another example of knee-jerk opposition to accommodating the disabled. People who are blind have petitioned the Federal Communications Commission to make Amazon’s and Sony’s basic e-readers accessible to them. Amazon counters that doing so would just drive up prices and not help the blind that much. But Apple places software for the blind in all its mobile devices.

In the end, eBay, Amazon and others will lose. That’s not surprising. The surprise is how unenlightened these supposedly cutting-edge companies are.

Just when you think the fight for accessibility is almost won, a new front opens. Fight on, friends, fight on.

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