Please Note: The general discussion below is not provided as or intended to be legal advice; rather the discussion is provided only as a courtesy for visitors to the Website. Any person interested in specific legal issues should consult with an attorney.
It’s the law. Recent years have seen an increase in accessibility-based legislation and mandates in the areas of information technology, telecommunications, employment, transportation, places of public accommodation, and state and local governments and avenues for the filing of complaints have been formalized. Establishing collaborations and enforcing these mandates is a top priority of the federal government.
The variety of accessibility and non-discrimination movements in the workplace are now viewed by many in society and government as civil rights issues.
Who is affected by accessibility and non-discrimination related legislation? All federal government agencies, federally funded programs, federal contractors, equipment manufacturers and providers, and many private sector employers. And voluntary affirmative action by all of these institutions is encouraged.
In addition, while most of the landmark accessibility related legislation has been issued at the federal level, virtually every state or local government in the United States has enacted and is following and enforcing its own anti-discrimination and accessibility guidelines.
The Americans with Disability Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in employment, state and local government, public accommodations, commercial facilities, transportation, and telecommunications. It also applies to the United States Congress. (1)
The ADA impacts businesses and religious entities with 15 or more employees; all activities of State and local governments regardless of the government entity's size or receipt of Federal funding: all government programs, services, and activities; public transportation services: public accommodations which are private entities; and, professional and educational or trade related applications or commercial facilities. (1)
Barriers to employment, transportation, public accommodations, public services, and telecommunications have resulted in incredible economic and social costs in the U.S. and have undermined goals to educate, rehabilitate, and employ individuals with disabilities. By eliminating these barriers, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) allows society to benefit from the skills and abilities of individuals with disabilities. In turn, the increased purchasing power provided by the employment of individuals with disabilities benefits society as a whole. (2)
Protection of civil rights for individuals with disabilities like those provided to individuals on the basis of race, color, sex, national origin, age, and religion are also granted through the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Successful enforcement of these civil rights is a high priority of the Federal Government.
The Telecommunication Act of requires manufacturers of telecommunications equipment and providers of telecommunications services to ensure that such equipment and services are accessible to and usable by persons with disabilities, if readily achievable.
This Act refers to accessibility as the ability of individuals to directly use telecommunication products without requiring special assistive devices (i.e., devices designed to meet the needs of individuals with disabilities.) 3 Usability, in a similar sense, is used to denote the ease with which a person can use a tool to reach a particular goal.
The term "readily achievable,” within the Act means to accomplish easily, without much difficulty or expense. If manufacturers cannot make their products accessible then they must design products to be compatible with adaptive equipment used by people with disabilities.
Products and services such as telephones, cell phones, pagers, call-waiting, and operator services that were often inaccessible to many users with disabilities now must offer solutions to remove these barriers to inclusion.
The Rehabilitation Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in programs conducted by Federal agencies, in programs receiving Federal financial assistance, in Federal employment, and in the employment practices of Federal contractors.
The purposes of this Act are to empower individuals with disabilities to maximize employment, economic self sufficiency, independence, and inclusion and integration into society; and to ensure that the Federal Government plays a leadership role in promoting the employment of individuals with disabilities, especially individuals with significant disabilities, and in assisting States and providers of services in fulfilling the aspirations of such individuals with disabilities for meaningful and gainful employment and independent living. (4)
Section 501 requires affirmative action and nondiscrimination in employment by Federal agencies of the executive branch. (1)
Section 502 establishes the U.S. Access Board.
Section 503 requires affirmative action and prohibits employment discrimination by Federal government contractors and subcontractors with contracts of more than $10,000. (1)
Section 504 states that "no qualified individual with a disability in the United States shall be excluded from, denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under" any program or activity that either receives Federal financial assistance or is conducted by any Executive agency or the United States Postal Service. (1)
Section 504 forbids organizations and employers from excluding or denying individuals with disabilities an equal opportunity to receive program benefits and services. It defines the rights of individuals with disabilities to participate in, and have access to, program benefits and services. (1)
The term "program or activity" means all of the operations of major entities including but not limited to a department, agency, special purpose district; or, an entity of government that distributes assistance and the entity to which the assistance was given; a college, university or postsecondary institution; local educational agencies including Elementary and Secondary school systems; entire corporations or other private organizations; as well as health care, housing, social services, or parks and recreation.
Section 505 establishes the enforcement procedures for Sections 501, 504 and 508. (1)
This act includes the remedies, procedures and rights set out in 1964 Civil Rights legislation and applies to employees or applicants for employment affected by a final disposition: any recipient of Federal assistance or any Federal assistance provider; and includes the cost of attorney’s fees. It should be noted that the Court may take into consideration the reasonableness of the request for accommodation and the obtainable alternatives. (2)
Section 508 establishes requirements for electronic and information technology developed, maintained, procured, or used by the Federal government. Section 508 requires Federal electronic and information technology to be accessible to people with disabilities, including employees and members of the public.
The net result will be that Federal agencies will have to purchase electronic and information technology that is accessible except where it would cause an “undue burden." (Undue burden referring to significant difficulty or expense.) The law also provides a complaint process under which complaints concerning access to technology will be investigated by the responsible Federal agency. 4 Section 508 was amended in 1998 to require EIT developed, procured, maintained or used by the Federal agencies, including the U.S. Postal Service, be accessible to all people with disabilities. It created binding enforceable standards and incorporated those standards into the Federal procurement regulations. Federal agencies must now use these standards in all their EIT acquisitions. (5)
Consistent government-wide standards will make it easier for Federal agencies to meet their obligations under the law and will promote competition in the technology industry by clarifying the Federal market intended for general use. (5)
Although individuals with disabilities may only enforce their rights with respect to procurements, they may also enforce their rights under Sections 501 and 504 which imposed related obligations on agencies. (5)
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