The Americans with Disabilities Act was enacted in 1990 by Congress as an all encompassing federal civil rights act to give those with disabilities the same working privileges as all citizens (Title I). Since then, four other titles have been added, including public transportation, new construction, etc. The one we will focus on is Title III, the telecommunications act. This title was added on in 1995 as protection for those previously unable to use phones, for example, because of the lack of TTY service. However, a provision was included to make Title III all encompassing to any new or unforeseen technologies that might arise. This was squarely aimed at web sites, which were just beginning their rise in popularity at this time.
Currently, there are several pending suits in federal courts over web sites, that may or may not make it to the Supreme Court. However, it’s not necessary to wait until it’s federal case law to implement some forms of ADA accessibility. The W3C is currently setting standards that all web sites can follow for accessibility (W3C Accessibility Initiative, ), including meeting the demands of disabled people.
Unfortunately, if you travel to the W3C’s site on how people with disabilities use the web (W3C- How People with Disabilities….), you’ll feel its time to abandon the ship before it even gets in the water. Listed on this web site are numerous scenarios of disabled people and the challenges they face to use a web site. These include color blindness, deafness, blindness, dyslexia, repetitive-motion stress, etc.
This overwhelming montage of scenarios may seem frightening at first, but they have some very important relativity in the world of usability. Color blindness (which effects 1 in 12 Americans) can lead to misinterpretation, unless they are allowed to use their own support sheets. This is an invaluable tool for usability as well, because any browser that supports CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) will make use of this standard, allowing for quicker downloads and no missing parts. Deafness, obviously, requires captioned text of all audio. This function is also important to those not wishing to listen (or more aptly, attract attention to themselves with sound) to an audio clip, but wanting the information.
One of the most important scenarios discussed, in terms of usability, is that of someone with a cognitive disability. The W3C also makes its strongest case for using its Web Site Usability Guidelines in its example of cognitive disability. The discussion is of a bagging clerk who has Down syndrome, which causes him to have difficulty with abstract objects, reading, and mathematical calculations. However, the grocery store he works for has its own web site, and he found it quite easy to use, because of its strait forwardness and its use of pictures and audio. He also mentioned the consistent design and ease of navigation as important tools to help him. Let us pause for a moment to reflect on this; ease of use, consistency, and very navigable. All three are key elements in usability guidelines, and all three can be accomplished using the W3C standard. However, the story does not end there.
Not only does usability help with the ecommerce side, it can also be used effectively on the back end. The baggage clerk has a new job, as the story goes, checking orders after they are filled. Instead of the regular text appearing on a monitor, the representative icons appear, along with text support. Audio support is also available if need be. If an item is found to be missing from an order, he simple clicks on the icon, and a bagging clerk completes the order. The simplicity of this system is astounding, and it would have very positive results on any company’s efficiency.
Another very positive aspect of this order checking that the company now is supporting Title I of the ADA, which requires employers to provide needed assistance to those with disabilities, in order for them to competently work in a work place. By complying with two Titles of the ADA, your company will not only be a Good Samaritan, but usability, efficiency, and productivity will all be increased.
There are also several nonprofit organizations, supported by technical companies. The most prominent is Bobby, which is an automated service that checks your website, and sends you recommendations on what needs to be changed to be Bobby compliant. If your site is Bobby compliant, you will be able to display a Bobby Approval link. This is a free and easy way to check your site for compliance. To find out more, visit here.
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