This particular lawsuit amounted to nothing more than a shakedown for cash, as the current laws would make it difficult to win the suit in court (more about this later) but it prompted me to dive deeper into the issue of ADA compliance. Through my research, I discovered there are some new laws on the horizon that could make ADA compliance mandatory, which means web designers and digital marketers need to know how to prepare.
The idea of federal legislation enhancing and extending civil rights legislation to millions of Americans with disabilities gained bipartisan support in late 1988 and early 1989. In early 1989 both Congress and the newly-inaugurated Bush White House worked separately, then jointly, to write legislation capable of expanding civil rights without imposing undue harm or costs on those already in compliance with existing rules and laws.
One of the first major ADA lawsuits, Paralyzed Veterans of America v. Ellerbe Becket Architects and Engineers (PVA 1996) was focused on the wheelchair accessibility of a stadium project that was still in the design phase, MCI Center (now known as Capital One Arena) in Washington, D.C. Previous to this case, which was filed only five years after the ADA was passed, the DOJ was unable or unwilling to provide clarification on the distribution requirements for accessible wheelchair locations in large assembly spaces. While Section 4.33.3 of ADAAG makes reference to lines of sight, no specific reference is made to seeing over standing patrons. The MCI Center, designed by Ellerbe Becket Architects & Engineers, was designed with too few wheelchair and companion seats, and the ones that were included did not provide sight lines that would enable the wheelchair user to view the playing area while the spectators in front of them were standing. This case and another related case established precedent on seat distribution and sight lines issues for ADA enforcement that continues to present day.
EEOC met this new challenge well in advance of the law's effective date. The Commission conducted 62 public meetings around the country with representatives from disability rights and employer organizations to receive their input in developing regulations for the ADA. Comprehensive regulations and an interpretive appendix were issued in July l991, one year before the effective date of the Act's employment discrimination provisions; between 1991 and 1992, the Commission issued a Technical Assistance Manual which provided practical guidance for employers and persons with disabilities, and developed an intensive ADA training program for EEOC staff.
There have been some notable cases regarding the ADA. For example, two major hotel room marketers (Expedia.com and Hotels.com) with their business presence on the Internet were sued because its customers with disabilities could not reserve hotel rooms, through their websites without substantial extra efforts that persons without disabilities were not required to perform. These represent a major potential expansion of the ADA in that this, and other similar suits (known as "bricks vs. clicks"), seeks to expand the ADA's authority to cyberspace, where entities may not have actual physical facilities that are required to comply.
Piggybacking on these consent decrees, private law firms have been increasingly (and ever more aggressively) sending demand letters to corporations (e.g. Amazon, Target, Hershey’s, Bank of America, Bed Bath & Beyond, Hulu, Charles Schwab, Safeway, CNN, etc.) threatening lawsuit if demands weren’t met. Most companies choose to settle vs. a legal battle but some including Dominos Pizza and Winn Dixie have gone all the way to litigation.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) also enforces Title II of the ADA relating to access to programs, services and activities receiving HHS federal financial assistance. This includes ensuring that people who are deaf or hard-of-hearing have access to sign language interpreters and other auxiliary aids in hospitals and clinics when needed for effective communication.
There are many ways to discriminate against people based on disabilities, including psychological ones. Anyone known to have a history of mental disorders can be considered disabled. Employers with more than 15 employees must take care to treat all employees fairly and with any accommodations needed. Even when an employee is doing a job exceptionally well, she or he is not necessarily no longer disabled; employers must continue to follow all policies for the disabled.
Two agencies within the U.S. Department of Labor enforce parts of the ADA. The Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) has coordinating authority under the employment-related provisions of the ADA. The Civil Rights Center (CRC) is responsible for enforcing Title II of the ADA as it applies to the labor- and workforce-related practices of state and local governments and other public entities. Visit the Laws & Regulations subtopic for specific information on these provisions.