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ADA Doesn't Apply to Web 827

Posted by Hemos
from the changing-the-rules dept.
djmoore writes "A federal judge has ruled that the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) does not apply to the Web. U.S. District Judge Patricia Seitz dismissed with prejudice a suit demanding that Southwest Airlines make its website more accessible to the blind, saying that the suit would create new rights for the disabled without setting appropriate standards. Judge Seitz also rejected plaintiffs' claim that the Web is a 'place of exhibition, display, and a sales establishment,' one of the twelve categories covered by the ADA, on the grounds that the law only covers physical places." Our original article has more details.
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ADA Doesn't Apply to Web

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  • Cool! (Score:4, Funny)

    by someonehasmyname (465543) on Tuesday October 22, 2002 @02:31PM (#4506064)
    Now I don't have to use alt tags! =)
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 22, 2002 @02:32PM (#4506074)
    Because this qualifies as disabled in my book:

    404 File Not Found
    The requested URL (articles/02/10/22/177239.shtml?tid=123) was not found.

    If you feel like it, mail the url, and where ya came from to pater@slashdot.org.

  • Quite Right (Score:3, Troll)

    by drhairston (611491) on Tuesday October 22, 2002 @02:32PM (#4506087) Homepage
    Finally, common sense from the bar. A new law is needed to define the rights of the disabled in cyberspace. Like the Digital Millenium Copyright Act defined how Copyright functions in cyberspace, a Cyber-ADA needs to be passed by Congress to define how (and whether) the handicapped shall access cyberspace.
    • Re:Quite Right (Score:3, Interesting)

      by MrWa (144753)
      This isn't modded as funny?

      Why should new laws need to be setup when there exists one already designed to permit disabled persons the same rights as everyone else?

      If anything, we need to evaluate laws on a one-by-one basis and determine if it makes sense for them to apply in cyberspace. In this situation - effectively eliminating an entire segment of society from participating in web commerce - it makes sense to me that we should allow handicapped access. What needs to be done, though, is draft an extension to the ADA that specifies what types of sites require access - a shotgun approach would only cause more problems.

    • Re:Quite Right (Score:5, Insightful)

      by SirSlud (67381) on Tuesday October 22, 2002 @02:54PM (#4506348) Homepage
      Funny, I thought copyright functioned the same way regardless of online/offline. Ie, if its copywritten, dont copy it. If its not, feel free. The DMCA stipulates how *people* are supposed to function in cyberspace with respect to copyright. (Or not function, as is the case.)

      Its a very important distinction, which is why I'm going all off-topic here.

      That said, I personally agree with legislation to mandate or regulate accessibility online.

      The DMCA protects the haves, which is why we didn't need that legislation.

      This accessibility legislation would help the have-nots, which is the only reasonable excuse for additional legislation (ie, to help those that actually need it as opposed to want it.)
      • Re:Quite Right (Score:4, Insightful)

        by interiot (50685) on Tuesday October 22, 2002 @03:38PM (#4506829) Homepage
        • The DMCA protects the haves, which is why we didn't need that legislation. This accessibility legislation would help the have-nots...

        So our laws should ensure justice, but only for the downtrodden? Not that I think that the DMCA is just, I just don't think that classism should be used in an argument, and even if it were, I don't think that's fundamentally what differentiates the DMCA from this law.

        Disability laws require special treatment to ensure a minimal level of human decency. Everyone else should be given a level playing field in the eyes of the law. That's the difference.

        • Re:Quite Right (Score:5, Insightful)

          by SirSlud (67381) on Tuesday October 22, 2002 @03:51PM (#4506947) Homepage
          All I meant is that it was more important to legislate human behaviour to promote equality (ie, bring inferiors in line with superiors), and less important to legislate human behavior in cases where legislation is designed to superfluously protect (I say superfluously, because a copyright is a copyright, and theres no technical need to mandate behaviour of people in order to dissuade them from breaking an entirely law) those who already have an advatange (ie, ownership of the copyright.)

          One law is designed to bring (wrt physical mobility) inferiors up to equal levels with superiors, while the other is designed to (wrt to ownership of assets) push inferiors (those that don't own the copyright) even furthur down the ladder of equal opportunity.

          I certainly agree we shouldn't allow justice to operately slowly on the basis of classism. Even us semisocialists realize you dont want to kill all wealth-generating motivation by continually removing people from the top of the food pyramid. Its more like, when you only have 24 hours in the day, effort should be more focused on bringing equality to those who dont have it instead of furthur solidifying the advantage some people have. Thats why I took exception to the original post and the comparison it made.
    • Re:Quite Right (Score:5, Insightful)

      by wandernotlost (444769) <[moc.cigamliart] [ta] [todhsals]> on Tuesday October 22, 2002 @02:58PM (#4506392)
      Finally, common sense from the bar. A new law is needed to define the rights of the disabled in cyberspace.

      Why must we have a new law every time a new technology comes along? Wouldn't common sense be to use existing laws to govern new things, in the spirit of the old law? We have so many laws, governing the minutia of everyday life, that no person could possibly be expected to know or follow every one. What we need is a reduction and simplification of laws, not an expansion to explicitly govern every imaginable situation.

      Like the Digital Millenium Copyright Act defined how Copyright functions in cyberspace, a Cyber-ADA needs to be passed by Congress to define how (and whether) the handicapped shall access cyberspace.

      That doesn't make any sense. The DMCA took away rights people already had with regard to copyrighted materials. Do we really need to fight for peoples' rights again every time something new comes along?

      • by lildogie (54998) on Tuesday October 22, 2002 @03:52PM (#4506964)
        Lessig made the point, in depth in his _Code and the laws of Cyberspace_ book. I will bravely try to paraphrase from memory:

        It's not a new concept in law, quite an old one, in fact, that the world changes out from under the law and laws have to be reinterpreted, or even remade.

        He uses the example of wiretapping laws that were created when the land-line telephone went into widespread use. Until then, you couldn't be a party to a conversation without physically being present, either to hear the conversation or to read it.

        Search and siezure applied to physical space, and the founding fathers had intended the limits on search and siezure to protect conversations (especially conversations about influencing the government). Telephones came along, and a guy up on a pole could listen to a conversation in a private residence down the block, without a warrant to enter the premesis.

        Lessig explained that the decisions about wiretap law presented the judiciary with a choice - should the law protect the physical space (wiretaps okay) or should the law protect the conversations in the physical space (wiretaps not okay).

        There are legal terms for each of these alternatives, although I don't remember them. History is that the judiciary went with the intent, not the letter, of the law set down by people who had no concept that something called a telephone would ever be invented. The judiciary could have justified the decision either way; they had to make a choice. (Whether we like the choice or not is incidental; they're judges and they have the power to make unpopular choices.)

        The invention of the telephone directly caused a need for new law to be made, in order to interpret an older law that was being superceeded by the technology.

        That's why you sometimes have to make/change law for new technology.

        Read Lessig's book. He's a good writer and he is on the forefront of adapting our laws to the planetary network.
    • Re:Quite Right (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Fnkmaster (89084)
      I fair entirely to see how this is common sense. While I don't disagree that perhaps an amendment to the ADA to define more specifically the rights of the disabled with respect to online information access, there is clearly plenty of jurisprudence regarding the interpretation of existing legilative and judicial precedent in the online world to make a go at it with respect to the ADA. Establishing that the ADA held with respect to handicapped accessibility to websites does not in any way impede Congress' ability to pass legislation on the same topic in the future, and would be a reasonable, consistent interpretation of existing legislature with respect to commercial establishments that operate both in the real world and on the web.


      The fact is the DMCA has done more harm than good for the vast majority of the online community. And the DMCA truly does nothing to "define how Copyright functions in cyberspace". Rather, it removes many previously established rights that citizens had with respect to copyrighted information that they had legal access to (i.e. fair use, first sale doctrine, limited time copyright, as established by legislation and judicial precedent), as well as squelching academic speech with respect to important technologies like encryption.


      Frankly, I don't believe that getting extremely technical in judicial decisions or in legislation is a good idea at all, frankly, since technology moves too fast anyway. If we have to legislate now how HTML 4.0 compliant text should be presented, will we have to legislate in the future how SVG should be presented? Don't you think a bit of judicial commonsense and a bit of accomodation by businesses to the existing ADA legislation by making normal HTML compliant web pages as a fallback for accessibility make everybody happy?

      I won't turn this into an ad hominem attack, but frankly, I think the parent post was modded up because the poster has "Dr." in front of his name rather than any particularly insightful commentary.

    • Re:Quite Right (Score:3, Insightful)

      by dacarr (562277)
      You forget an important thing however: if a net.equivalent of the ADA is passed on the United States federal level, how is it expected that websites the world over are to follow this? We are looking at the so-called World Wide Web, key words "world wide" - and US laws don't apply to any country beyond ours.

      This is why we have the W3C, so we can establish what standards there are. We don't need laws, we just need to agree what is considered standard and not use the rest. IE5-only restrictions, for instance, are non-standard, which alienates those who are using Linux, don't want IE, or are otherwise restricted to text only (console users, blind, etc.), and you can't legislate out stupidity, so what is a law going to do?

  • by JonTurner (178845) on Tuesday October 22, 2002 @02:34PM (#4506101) Journal
    "Judge Seitz also rejected plaintiffs' claim that the Web is a 'place of exhibition, display, and a sales establishment,'"
    Perhaps I should forward some spam to Judge Seitz. I get about ten emails a day with various offers to exhibit, display and sell, uh, stuff.
  • by mekkab (133181) on Tuesday October 22, 2002 @02:34PM (#4506107) Homepage Journal
    When its talking out of its ass.

    I think the area of online jurisdiction is going to be a legal gold mine of study in the near future. What with seemingly conflicting case law this is the stuff that a law journal would kill for.

    Personally I think the ADA had a point if only becuase I believe in simple sites with good designs (however if you check my URL you will see something ugly, dis-organized, and "stoopid")

    but it will be interesting what precedents this sets or if this gets overturned by a higher court later on.
  • Thats like.... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by sheepab (461960)
    Thats like filing a suit against Ford for not making their cars drivable for the blind.....
  • ... that the language ADA does't work well with apache and modern browsers ? :)
  • insane ruling (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 22, 2002 @02:35PM (#4506123)
    There is no reason Southwest could not make their website blind-accessible.

    1. graphical buttons should have names (you know, the things that pop up when you hover your mouse over a graphic) so the blind can tell, w/ a text reader, what the button is supposed to do.

    2. people put up "text only"/"low bandwidth" versions of their pages up all the time. It is not difficult.

    In short, southwest doesn't want to be assed to hire competent frontpage monkeys.
    • Re:insane ruling (Score:5, Insightful)

      by PaschalNee (451912) <pnee@[ ]mbeola.com ['too' in gap]> on Tuesday October 22, 2002 @02:49PM (#4506272) Homepage

      2. people put up "text only"/"low bandwidth" versions of their pages up all the time. It is not difficult.

      I don't agree. Maintaining and testing two UI's on your product is considerably more difficult that maintaining one. Especially if your content is dynamically generated in multiple languages. I get that with a well designed architecture with good separation between the presentation and logic layers makes this easier but it still requires a considerable effort for very little incremental gain (i.e. you will not see a considerable jump in people accessing your site)
      • Re:insane ruling (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Waffle Iron (339739) on Tuesday October 22, 2002 @03:22PM (#4506676)
        I don't agree. Maintaining and testing two UI's on your product is considerably more difficult that maintaining one.

        Then why don't you save yourself a bunch of work and only put up the "low bandwidth" site? I don't think that I've ever seen a bloated website where the additional "functionality" was worth the slower downloads (even with broadband) and browser bugs (even with IE).

      • Re:insane ruling (Score:3, Insightful)

        by pmz (462998)
        Maintaining and testing two UI's on your product is considerably more difficult that maintaining one.

        Then just make one UI that is accessible. It really is pretty simple.

        Well structured and tastefully laid-out HTML is all that is needed. If someone is whining that JavaScript just has to be used, then use it in a way that doesn't affect the displayed content. In other words, use JavaScript only for validation and other basic client-side processing--it should never be used to generate the UI.
    • Re:insane ruling (Score:3, Insightful)

      by bwt (68845)
      I'm rather baffled by this judge's reading of the statute. I might expect SWA to prevail eventually if they could show that blind people can use SWA's travel services by calling a 1-800-number, but to dismiss the case on this reading of the statute seems untenable to me. In fact it seems blockheaded. I can't imagine that an appeals court wouldn't overturn the particular reasoning he used (again, I'm not saying SWA won't eventually prevail -- just that not because of this insane reasoning).

      The court seems to ignore 42 USC 12181(7)(F) which lists the following among several types of "public accommodations"
      a laundromat, dry-cleaner, bank, barber shop, beauty shop,
      travel service, shoe repair service, funeral parlor, gas station, office of an accountant or lawyer, pharmacy, insurance office, professional office of a health care provider, hospital, or other service establishment

      It seems to me this judge misreads the basic statute as well 42 USC 12182(a):
      No individual shall be discriminated against on the basis of disability in the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations of any place of public accommodation by any person who owns, leases (or leases to), or operates a place of public accommodation.

      The "place of accommodation" in this case is Southwest Airlines itself, in-so-far as it provides "travel services" per 42 USC 12181(7)(F). The website is not the "place of accommodation", but rather is one of the "services" provided by the place of accommodation.
  • Good, but... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by DesScorp (410532) <DesScorp.Gmail@com> on Tuesday October 22, 2002 @02:36PM (#4506128) Homepage Journal
    While I'm glad the court didn't make a blanket judgement compelling businesses to maintain dual website versions, we DO need to consider ways in which to make the web more accessable to the disabled in order to more completely fulfill its promise. Kudos to the judge for making this decision though. Another heavy handed mandate was not what is needed for this problem.
    • Re:Good, but... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by yamla (136560) <chris@@@hypocrite...org> on Tuesday October 22, 2002 @03:04PM (#4506464)

      Why would you have to maintain dual websites? The changes necessary to make your site accessible to the blind are generally such simple things as using ALT tags for images and make your HTML valid. In fact, the ALT tag has been required (i.e. NOT optional) since at least HTML 4.01 [w3.org].

      So really, 90% of the work of making your web site accessible to the blind involves just doing what you should be doing anyway.

    • Re:Good, but... (Score:3, Interesting)

      by elmegil (12001)
      I have to say I'm a fence sitter on this myself. I think that ruling that the web is "not a place..." is a huge setback for equivalence of laws in cyberspace. That's something that I think is important. As long as we treat the web as "a special case", we will be supporting the same mindset that thinks applying an ancient and accepted business model to the web is novel and patentable.

      On the other hand, I do think that making a blanket judgement that all websites must be ADA compliant, or even all commercial websites, given the mom-n-pop nature of a lot of commercial websites, would be disastrous for the economy of the web. It's already hard enough to make money online unless you're a spammer or selling porn.

      hm....that sounds like an interesting thing. ADA compliant porn sites....

  • Well, DUH. (Score:4, Funny)

    by Masque (20587) on Tuesday October 22, 2002 @02:36PM (#4506130)
    Of COURSE ADA doesn't apply to the internet. perl has long since dominated in that area. The government -just- noticed this?
  • Awwww... (Score:4, Funny)

    by Quaoar (614366) on Tuesday October 22, 2002 @02:37PM (#4506135)
    And I was JUST about to sue Playboy.com because I can't get it up...
  • by lorcha (464930) on Tuesday October 22, 2002 @02:37PM (#4506137)
    I know this was said on the last thread we had on the subject, but it's worth repeating. The guy was in no way prevented from buying tickets or flying. If the website was too difficult to navigate, he could simply call Southwest on the phone.

    The best analogy I can think of is a building with both stairs and a ramp to access it. If this lawsuit was successful, it would be like compelling the owner of said building to make the stairs accessable to disabled people when there is a perfectly good ramp. Why should Southwest have to change their website when there is a perfectly good phone number?

  • by marick (144920) on Tuesday October 22, 2002 @02:37PM (#4506139)
    "A federal judge ruled that the Atlanta mass transit agency violated the ADA by constructing a website that was inaccessible for people with visual disabilities."

    Read it here [sedbtac.org]

    I guess what makes these cases different is that one is a private company, the other a public service organization.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 22, 2002 @02:39PM (#4506163)
    Why would dentists care about the web pages being accessible anyway?
  • by noahbagels (177540) on Tuesday October 22, 2002 @02:39PM (#4506166)
    Hi,

    Let me start by saying that this comment does not make me feel morally superior - in fact the opposite.

    The truth of the matter, is that there are multiple considerations (ignoring the specifics of the law for now).
    1. The cost to existing and new websites would be extremely high to implement ADA standards. In addition, this could easily shut-down smaller businesses (i.e. those akin to yahoo stores etc...) and those serving small niche markets. A good example of this was a small Australian site selling serialR/C Servo controllers for less than 50% of the cheapest US-made part.

    2. The web is not a physical space. I agree with this one also. While I really, really am sympathetic to the disabled, and wish to help-out whenever possible, at what point does the ADA/public-regulated support end? Should highways have bumper-car lanes for those with poor eyesight? Should the stock market have a slow motion exchange for those who need more time to think?


    I would support a federally funded (not run) program to provide tools making it easier to design/implement/test sites for accessibility, but c'mon folks - we can't even get HTML compliant browsers...

    what do you think would happen if the feds mandated a HTML-ADA spec???
    • by marick (144920) on Tuesday October 22, 2002 @02:51PM (#4506305)
      "1. The cost to existing and new websites would be extremely high to implement ADA standards." Are you sure about this or just talking out of your ass? Seriously, it's not that hard. You run your website through bobby and then change the code where needed. It's mostly common-sense stuff, like including alt-tags on images. People should be doing this stuff anyway! And yes, I do know what I'm talking about. I led-up a project on ADA complicance at my job, where I develop JSP-based web applications.
      • Maybe this has already been answered, but I haven't seen it. What if you use Flash on your site, and the plugin doesn't implement the ADA standards. Who is responsible? What if you do a poor job of typing out the alt tags and it makes it's possible, but difficult to run through talking software? There's too much grey area and difficulty when dealing with the standards.
      • "People should be doing this stuff anyway!"

        First, I completely agree with you. People should be doing this, it is painfully stupid for them not to take more care with their web site, and it is inexcusable for people to use javascript that requires particular browsers.

        However, the question at hand is if a company should be COMPELLED to do a good job with their web design.

        Step away from the particulars of web design for a moment and forget about how simple it should be for them to fix this, assuming they have some competant web person on staff.

        The generic form of the question is "Can we compel someone to do some small thing they already ought to do just because it also benefits some other person or group?" and if we boil it down another step, it's really "Can we compel someone to do some small thing for another person or group?".

        If we say "Yes, it is acceptable to compel one person to do some small thing for the benifit of another person.", doesn't it follow that we can also say "Yes, it is acceptable to compel Marick to do some particular thing for some particular person."?

        In case you don't recognize it yet, this is the slippery slope of slavery. Tred carefully.

    • 1. The cost to existing and new websites would be extremely high to implement ADA standards.

      The cost to new sites is zero. Using HTML properly gets you ADA compliance. The HTML standards were designed very carefully to accomodate different types of client, including non-visual. The only problem arises from those who incorrectly try to use HTML as a graphic design medium

    • what do you think would happen if the feds mandated a HTML-ADA spec???

      Actually this sort of thing has been the goal of standards organizations for a while. Pick up a "hype-ography" of XML and you're almost certain to read that XML is supposed to make information accessable to people with disabilities. They'll tell you that data (such as airfares) should be represented in XML and XSL will specify how it should be displayed. There are already web page readers that exist (as plug-ins to browsers) so they would simply download the audible presentation stylesheet. As for the price for the consumer, such products are likely covered (in some part) by health insurance or MediCare. On their end Southwest would simply be implementing the server side of an inernationally (and privately) developed standard which exists now.

      If Southwest airlines is going to offer exclusive faires on their website, then they must legally make those faires available the disabled, whether it be through a text-to-speach plugin or (cheaper) through toll free number offering the same fares. Such a scheme would lower the "extremely high" costs: simply add a text to speach tag to your existing site which says "Call 1-800-sml-shop to hear exclusive online offers. If a person is physically capable of using a service (like air-travel) then they should be able to purchace that service just like any other customer.

      Finally, as far as this precedent extending American law to the Internet; you have to keep in mind that Southwest airlines is an American corporation (at least I assume they haven't "moved" to the Bahamas yet), therefore they have to obey the same laws. sony.jp certainly violates the ADA (if the web-text plugin can't handle Southwest.com then what the hell is it supposed to do with Kangi?), but that's fine because it's outside US jurisdiction - like any company in Australia.

      If companies, and governments are going to move into the online realm to enjoy the savings of paperless operation, then they'll simply have to bring the less fortunate among us with them.

  • No standard? (Score:3, Informative)

    by kbielefe (606566) <karl.bielefeldt+ ... NCKENom minus au> on Tuesday October 22, 2002 @02:39PM (#4506171)
    What's wrong with this standard [w3.org]?
  • by SniffleBear (604984) on Tuesday October 22, 2002 @02:40PM (#4506178)
    http://www.zombo.com [zombo.com] (turn sound up)
  • by E-Rock-23 (470500) <.lostprophyt. .at. .gmail.com.> on Tuesday October 22, 2002 @02:42PM (#4506202) Homepage Journal
    Either this goes to the Supreme Court and gets fixed, or we have to take it upon ourselves.

    Being a web designer, my main goal is to get my work "seen" by as many people as possible. This includes anyone with a disability, as they're people, too. I say bad form. The ADA should apply to ALL situations, allowing ALL people to do whatever they can within any given limitation. If software exists to help a blind person "view" a website via audible text playback, then they should not be singled out like this.

    Web sites already cater to the hearing impaired (duh), but does the ability to see entitle them to more? People with vision problems (blindness or otherwise) should be granted the ability to "view" whatever site they choose, be it with a text reader or otherwise. This decision will make those with disabilities that render Internet use all but impossible out to be second class citizens again, which is why the ADA was enacted.

    If anything, we're going to see a whole mess of discrimination lawsuits come out of this. And we all know what kind of chaos can ensue when someone files a lawsuit. If you're in charge of web content, I'm urging you to ignore this court decision and go the extra mile for people with disabilities. If you do, at least one person out there will certainly appreciate the extra effort, and you'll avoid a costly lawsuit in the process (aka CYA)...
  • by Lumpy (12016) on Tuesday October 22, 2002 @02:45PM (#4506223) Homepage
    sorry but it is poor design to ignore those that are disabled.. and it is very VERY simple to make a text only version of the site for them. It's too bad that this judge was either very dim-witted or bought off by a large industry player to ignore the basic rights of a disabled part of society.

    if a store or even a private club doesnt have ramps or handicap access they are swarmed upon by the bees that are the ADA... but when it comes to accessability via electronic means it doesn't?

    heck most of these places are required to have TTY phones and operators to handle calls from the deaf, why the decision to ignore the blind?
    • it's bad practice, and not a nice thing to do, to exclude the blind. but it's not illegal, since the ADA did not explicitly cover the web. that's the difference.
    • I have Attention Deficit Disorder. I say we stop designing websites with fancy graphics, flashing banners and pictures of cute women. With my handicap, I can't seem to concentrate on any web pages... I'm just too distracted by all the colors, flashing and flesh.

      Don't ignore my disability as well. Let's stick up for those who can't see, hear or concentrate to use the web!

  • by Peter Winnberg (518611) on Tuesday October 22, 2002 @02:47PM (#4506244)
    Mark Pilgrim, the guy behind Dive Into Accessibility [diveintoac...bility.org] offers some comments on this article, Southwest off the hook [diveintomark.org] in his weblog Dive Into Mark [diveintomark.org].
  • While most /. visitors probably use the web as an information medium, we may be in the minority. For example, my daughter likes to play the online games at Playhouse Disney [go.com]. Tell me, how would you make a screenreader-friendly, low-bandwidth, or Lynx-viewable version of a website that's designed strictly for interactive entertainment without any real information content?

    Yes, it's sad that a visually-impaired person can't get the full enjoyment from that site. However, I don't think they should be able to sue to force ADA compliance, any more than they should be able to sue Sony for not making Gran Turismo accessible.

    Remember, just because you primarily use the web as an information resource does not mean that everyone else does.
  • by aaarrrgggh (9205) on Tuesday October 22, 2002 @02:54PM (#4506349)
    ...we had to go around campus for a day in wheelchairs, to understand the barriers that architects create for people who cannot walk. The focus is on understanding what things can be done to "maintain architectural integrity," and also provide universal access. A similar exercise was done to experience the enviroment as a blind person.

    The problem with ADA is that it is very strict, as many government guidelines seem to be, and it is enforced to the letter, not always looking towards the merits of improved accessibility itself.

    I agree with the judge's ruling, but... I really wish web designers at least provided a compatibility level alternative, considering different ways that people access information.
  • by bobdotorg (598873) on Tuesday October 22, 2002 @02:58PM (#4506400)
    Even though I'm happy with the results of the case, was really curious about, and waiting to 'see' exactly how pr0n sites were going to comply with this.
  • There is Hope! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by kenp2002 (545495) on Tuesday October 22, 2002 @02:58PM (#4506405) Homepage Journal
    There is a ray of hope that there is some common sense in the courts. If that ruling had not happened how many weeks before some deaf person sued a record label for not making their music Deaf-Accessable (How would that work?) or perhaps they would sue a painter for not making their painting blind-accessable? Or my personal favorite, someone in a wheelchair filing a charge against the U.S for not making the mountains in National parks accessable (oh wait too late...) There is a limit, this person crossed it and thank god there was a judge with some common sense to strike it down!
  • by xcomputer_man (513295) on Tuesday October 22, 2002 @03:00PM (#4506425) Homepage
    An error occured while loading http://www.flsd.uscourts.gov/viewer/viewer.asp?fil e=/cases/opinions/02CV21734d24.pdf:

    Timeout on server
    Connection was to www.flsd.uscourts.gov at port 80


    If a court website gets slashdotted, would it classify as obstruction of justice?
  • by misterhaan (613272) on Tuesday October 22, 2002 @03:01PM (#4506438) Homepage Journal
    good thing ADA doesn't apply to web! what difference should it make if i was in too much of a hurry to brush my teeth this morning or if i happen to have a cavity or two?

    in truth i saw ADA in the headline and immediately thought of the american dental association . . .

  • by Aquitaine (102097) <.gro.masmai. .ta. .mas.> on Tuesday October 22, 2002 @03:02PM (#4506454) Homepage
    Disclaimer: I work for the state of New York at Cornell University and am/will be responsible for several sites that must, by either state, federal, or sponsor mandate, be accessible.

    Disclaimer disclaimer: I haven't started yet. :P

    I'm surprised that there's been no mention of this yet, but there already are government standards for web site accessibility. They are not enforceable standards (unless you're a govt. agency), but they are quite thorough, and from the research I've done, about 85% of it is simply common sense and good web design practice anyway, with only a few additional considerations. IBM also has an accessibility initiative, as does w3c. Maintaining dual sites is certainly not required, and unless you're the sort of designer that puts flash in everything, it shouldn't be an enormous stretch to conform with them. (But then, it shouldn't be an enormous stretch to conform with w3c HTML standards either. Shoulda coulda woulda.)

    Some links:
    http://www.section508.gov [section508.gov] -- Federal accessibility initiative.

    http://www.w3.org/TR/WAI-WEBCONTENT/ [w3.org] -- W3C Initiative

    http://www-3.ibm.com/able/accessweb.html [ibm.com] -- IBM Accessibility checklist

    I suppose, in a perfect world, we wouldn't need the courts to tell us that we have to do things like this. I suspect that it is in most companies' best interests to have a site that everyone can use and from which everyone can make purchases. Even if the ADA lost, it's not exactly good press for your company when you have to go to court against them in the first place.

    (I'm not saying that I disagree with the ruling; don't really have a qualified opinion on whether or not these standards should be law.)
  • by SatanicPuppy (611928) <Satanicpuppy&gmail,com> on Tuesday October 22, 2002 @03:09PM (#4506523) Journal
    Who says that anyone has the 'right' to visit any one site on the internet? Browser incompatibilities are everywhere. If I've got a crappy browser, and a slow connection I can't see half of anything. If the site doesn't have a non-flash, slow modem connection option, can I sue?

    And as for the 'ease' of compiling a completely different, all-text, reader-friendly site...I for one don't want to have to rewrite all the code on the 70 odd sites I administer, for the 1% of the population which is either blind, or unnaturally connected to their "Turbo Gopher" program.

    I'm all for readability, and I'm all for the government being required to publish handicapped friendly sites, but it should be choice for private enterprise. If they don't want the extra cost for the extra business, so what? That should be their choice, especially in regards to a format like HTML which is SO heavily visual.

    Christ, it's like mandating Radio stations play a streaming "text band" along with their signal, so that DEAF people can enjoy it too.

  • Two points (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Brian_Ellenberger (308720) on Tuesday October 22, 2002 @03:14PM (#4506586)
    A) From the article: "They admitted that it was possible for the blind to buy tickets on Southwest's site, but argued it was "extremely difficult.""

    I think this is an important fact. Being blind and using an inherently visual medium is always going to be difficult in some way. Coupled with the fact that the judge recognized that there are no guidelines from a generally accepted authority means that there wasn't anything for Southwest to comply or try to comply with.

    2) The person could always use the phone and talk with a real person. The problem with disabilities is that human beings can adapt. Computer cannot. The ADA made things accessable (wheelchair ramps). Once inside, people can help deal with the individual disability.

    For example, say a disabled person comes into a clothing store. They need help.

    a) Say they are visually-impared. The employee can help describe colors and styles and pick out correct sizes.

    b) Say they are hearing-impared and are mute. The employee and customer can communicate through written notes.

    c) Say the employee is in a wheelchair. They may just need the employee to reach clothing for them.

    The ADA does not say that all stores must have little tags on the clothes that give a verbal description when you press them or require everything to be at a height so that a person in a wheelchair can reach them.

    A computer cannot adapt. Humans can. You cannot expect the WWW to give a disabled person the same abilites that a physically human being can. We do not have enough programmers to program each and every scenario on every page. Guidelines are nice, but no amount of guidelines will be sufficent at this time to make it as accessible as picking up a phone or actually going to the mall. An online clothing store is going to always rely on pictures to convey information. It will be a long time before a Clippy's great-great-great-grandson or granddaughter can come on and answer questions asthetic questions about the particular piece of clothing for blind people (or in my case color-blind people).

    Brian Ellenberger
    • Re:Two points (Score:3, Insightful)

      by LiamQ (110676)

      Being blind and using an inherently visual medium is always going to be difficult in some way.

      True, but the Web is not an inherently visual medium. There is nothing inherently visual about the comment you posted or the words I'm typing now. I could just as well be listening to your post read aloud and dictating my response by voice.

      There is nothing inherently visual about buying airline tickets over the Web.

  • by zbuffered (125292) on Tuesday October 22, 2002 @03:16PM (#4506604)
    I wonder what Southwest's motivation was for taking this to court. Alt tags alone would be very simple to implement, so is it possible that they saw a need to take a stand and did so, Oliver North style?

    If you really feel you are in the right, is it your duty to do as Southwest did, and make them follow up on their threat to "take you to court" if you don't do what they want? Certainly, their lawyers charged SW a pretty penny, maybe more than their web people would have, so do you think they weighed the cost and just said, "aw, screw it, let's give the blind what-for!"

    I guess the real question would be, what would one cost them versus the other, and did they act in the best interests of their stockholders, or did they do what they thought was right?

    Final thought: If, after this is all over, they made their website blind-accessible, what a great statement would that be?
  • by Buran (150348) on Tuesday October 22, 2002 @03:29PM (#4506732)
    Out of those here I've seen one top-level post which directly deals with someone who is disabled -- someone who has a coworker who is blind.

    I am myself hearing-impaired and this means that I fall under the ADA. When I went to college I could get them to give me a note-taker if I'd wanted to.

    There are many things I can't do that aren't covered by the law -- for example I've been getting interested in birding. But I can't hear birdsong for the most part, and I have no directional hearing. So any calls I do hear -- I can't tell where they're coming from to take a visual look to see what made the noise.

    I accept that shortcoming, as I accept many others, because I know that my disability prevents me from doing some things. But I don't feel that I should be less able to access, say, the Internet -- just because it's not a "physical place". If web pages required sound in order to function rather than sight, I'd be in quite a fix.

    Should it matter what it would cost to fix that problem for a webmaster? No. Why? It's discrimination, plain and simple. It sends the message 'We don't want you deaf people coming in here.'

    Might as well put up a sign that says "No (insert ethnic group here) need apply."
    • Might as well put up a sign that says "No (insert ethnic group here) need apply."

      I disagree. Ethnicity does not inherently prevent or disallow someone from e.g. reading or listening.

    • If web pages required sound in order to function rather than sight, I'd be in quite a fix.

      This is an excellent point.

      I would note that if, say, you were on a site that had previews of music, a deaf person shouldn't be surprised if he weren't able to listen to the samples.... Nor would it make any sense to outlaw putting such samples online. If the point is sound, then somebody who can't do sound just must miss out. But that's OK. (There are lots of sites on the web which either don't interest me, or which are inaccessible to me due to, for instance, a lack of proper advanced education. I don't begrudge those pages to the folks who are interested, however. I do begrudge it, however, when a bank or other "general access" site requires specific software; that's an entirely gratuitous limitation.)

      Where it's a travesty is when the information doesn't intrinsically require sound, but then it is coded in such a way that it becomes inaccessible without sound. Similarly, if the information on a webpage is textual, it is a travesty not to code it in such a way that those who require text-based readers can cope (including blind folks who use some sort of text-to-speech device).

      -Rob

  • by DEBEDb (456706) on Tuesday October 22, 2002 @03:29PM (#4506737) Homepage Journal
    Because any web site is a public place, and
    so this needs to be thought out.
    You are not required to have your house ADA-compliant, but even your personal web site
    is just as publicly accessible as a big company's,
    and so should every Joe Frontpage be forced
    to make it compliant after such a precedent?
  • by t0qer (230538) on Tuesday October 22, 2002 @03:30PM (#4506749) Homepage Journal
    Seriously....

    Calling: 1-800-IFLYSWA

    Recorded voice "Lower fares may be availiable on website"

    Human being "Hello this is Ruby, Thank you for calling Southwest Airlines, how may I help you?"

    Me,"Sorry, wrong number, thanks."

    Up to the point where the recording said lower fares may be availiable on the website, I thought, what a stupid ass lawsuit, you mean to tell me these blind people don't have a phone?

    But then listening to that, it made me draw 2 conclusions, either...

    A. There really ARE lower fares on the SW website.
    or
    B. It's just a trick by marketing to whore your info from you over the web.

    Either way, SW would be at fault in an accessability lawsuit unless they

    A. Upgrade the workstations the phone people use so they can read websites to blind people.

    B. Add "alt" tags.

    Maybe the judge should consider that.
  • by brickbat (64506) on Tuesday October 22, 2002 @03:35PM (#4506789) Homepage Journal
    I am all for making reasonable efforts to provide Web accessibility to as many people as possible. It's just good business sense.

    But how far must we go before "reasonable accommodation" means unreasonable allocations of development resources? One of our information designers just completed an accessibility overview of our site using section 508 and WAI guidelines, and the list of accessibility problems was somewhat discouraging: lack of alt attributes in img tags, complex table layouts, incompatible navigational elements--even the language used in our site copy could be regarded as difficult to follow for those with cognitive or reading disabilities. The cost to refactor our site architecture to conform to these guidelines would far outstrip any additional revenue we might gain.

    On the other hand, we have a toll-free customer service number, staffed 24 hours a day, that allows you to access all of the products we offer for sale on the Web. So, is that "reasonable accommodation?" Or must we cater to every person with any type of disability, even if such a disability might prevent them from even being able to use the products we offer?
  • by avandesande (143899) on Tuesday October 22, 2002 @03:49PM (#4506930) Journal
    The physical distinction is important. Companies are only required to physically cater to the handicapped. Companies aren't required to have their advertising literature in braille. They aren't required to have a someone on premisis that does sign language, or have phone access for the deaf.
  • Disgrace! (Score:4, Informative)

    by twitter (104583) on Tuesday October 22, 2002 @03:54PM (#4506980) Homepage Journal
    So, the blind and crippled will have to go to trouble the rest of us are happy to free of? Shame. Will it only be when you CAN'T get tickets and other modern necessities by walking to a booth that this is reversed? Is it that hard to make web pages for vital services simple and clear so that automated readers can fathom them and the rest of us don't have to click ad nauseum? No, all of this is very clear. Seitz has wimped out again.

    Some other silly stuff from this judge:

    • Uhh, it's like way too confusing, dude [aegis.com] Unable to reconcile federal and state laws. Ugh, week is illegal. This may or may not be a good thing, but the law is clear.
    • no harm done! [postalvoice.com] No one died, so US must be right.
    • Wierd [naplesnews.com] Would you believe that my grandfater lost two trucks of gold?
    • From a Swamp of incompetence [bizjournals.com] Seitz cries foul!
    • I'm sure there's more but it's off topic.

    Web designers must now take it on themselves to dissavow propriatory and impossible garbage such as activeX, and Flash when designing important sites. Google reduces the entire web with simple text, ticket sales should be so easy. Please use only published and open standards for important public services. Hint, you should be able to navigate it easily with lynx, a text based browser.

  • by ellisDtrails (583304) on Tuesday October 22, 2002 @03:59PM (#4507012) Homepage
    I worked on an "accessable" site a few years back, it was my former employers biggest client (and coincidentally, their biggest flop). Although I am concerned with the fact that the blind and other people with disabilities can't always access websites in as efficient a manner as possible (within a medium that is more easily than others to make accessable), I agree with the judge on this one. The W3C guidlines are outdated and unclear. There are no standards for screenwriters and they are prohibitively expensive for smaller shops to own to for quality assurance testing. I think the lobbying groups that wanted to force Southwest should focus their efforts at working with the internet and business community (who take green money from anyone, "able" or not) to come with viable standards and processes for making information technology as accessable as possible.
  • by nologin (256407) on Tuesday October 22, 2002 @04:20PM (#4507213) Homepage

    ...but it's not because I'm cold-hearted toward people with disabilities.

    The ADA has two purposes. The first one is to eliminate any discrimination towards individuals solely on the basis of their disability. Therefore, the argument must clearly present that "his disability and only his disability" is the root cause of his inability to access tickets at the reduced rate.

    Well, one can argue that universal access doesn't apply. For instance, individuals without computers or internet access don't have access to the web site either. That eliminates the sole "disability discrimination rule" that the suit is based upon. If the judge would imply that SWA would be forced to provide a remedy, the customers that don't have computers could naturally sue along the same grounds. I doubt that the judge will let that happen any time soon.

    The second purpose of the ADA is clearly define and legislate uniform standards of access for disabled individuals covered under the "universal access" portion of the ADA. While it is true that the government has officially legislated web standards for "public sector" (government) sites, the same is not true for private sector sites. SWA falls under the private sector. Therefore, there isn't a legislated standard for them to follow.

    Result. Case gets thrown out. The ADA doesn't apply. Next case.

    Legally, the decision is correct. Ethically, that decision is debatable. SWA should learn that this case will hurt them in terms of bad PR. And while SWA should give him the reduced rate, they are not legally obligated to do so.

    Also, I can safely point out that price isn't that much of a factor. The person sitting next to you in that plane has most likely saved more on his/her flight than you have...

  • QOTD (Score:3, Funny)

    by _ph1ux_ (216706) on Tuesday October 22, 2002 @04:30PM (#4507293)
    Funny here is the QOTD from the bottom of the Slashdot page:

    "Ada is the work of an architect, not a computer scientist." - Jean Icbiah, inventor of Ada, weenie
  • by dh003i (203189) <dh003i@noSPaM.gmail.com> on Tuesday October 22, 2002 @04:54PM (#4507508) Homepage Journal
    Next, they'll be suing Playboy because their magazines do not faciliate the masterbatory desires of the blind. Or maybe they'll sue the phone sex companies because they're services aren't available for the deaf. Pretty soon, fat and ugly women will be suing strip clubs because they don't hire fat and ugly people -- appearance discrimination.

    This is getting ridiculous. I can understand public access for blind people -- ramps, elevators, etc. I can understand brail. I can understand certain features in public buildings to help the blind. But I'm gonna have to kill someone if someone sues McDonalds because they're doors aren't "wide enough for 700 pound poeple to fit through" or sues the movie theaters because their seats don't accomadate 500 pounds worth of ass.

    Telling companies to redesign their websites is a violation of free speech. It would be like mandating that Michael Crichton also release his books in brail, and threatening to fine him if he doesn't. Companies shouldn't have to spend millions of dollars making sure that the 0.1% of people who are blind can use their website easily.

    And private websites certainly shouldn't have to accomodate the disabled. If I have a website with some opinions by myself on there and lots of other political stuff, and then have a little link saying "buy my T-shirt", that does not make it a commercial site. Its still a private website, and I should be able to do with it whatever I want.

    I'll grant you that if the web were more friendly for blind people, it would be a better web:

    1. There would be no unnecessary images. All web-sites would look like those of FSF.org.

    2. The only places where pictures or sounds would be would be for screenshots or things like that; there wouldn't be banner ads, and structural features of a website wouldn't rely on graphical barriers.

    But forcing companies to change their websites evokes free speech issues.

Computers are unreliable, but humans are even more unreliable. Any system which depends on human reliability is unreliable. -- Gilb

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