An individual with a disability is defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act as a person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a person who has a history or record of such an impairment, or a person who is perceived by others as having such an impairment.
Two civil rights laws outline the requirements for providing disabled users with equivalent access to online media and digital resources.
Americans with Disabilities Act, Titles II and III
The Americans with Disabilities Act, 1990, is a civil law governed by the Department of Justice that guarantees that people with disabilities have the same opportunities as everyone else to participate in the mainstream activities of life.
Of the five titles under ADA, Titles II and III have been interpreted to apply to web accessibility and the resources of public entities:
- Title II: “Public entities” include any State or local government and any of its departments, agencies, or other instrumentalities.
- Title III: A public accommodation must provide auxiliary aids and services when they are necessary to ensure effective communication with individuals with hearing, vision, or speech impairments.
Rehabilitation Act, Sections 504 and 508
The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 was the first significant civil rights law to secure an equal playing field for individuals with disabilities. Two sections, 504 and 508, impact accessible web design.
Section 504 protects the rights of individuals with disabilities in programs and activities that receive Federal financial assistance. Section 504, 29 U.S.C.§794, states:
No otherwise qualified individual with a disability in the United States… shall, solely by reason of her or his disability, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.
Section 508 is an amendment to the Rehabilitation Act that provides a set of binding, enforceable standards for Web-based intranet and internet information and applications. The standards are based upon recommendations made by the Web Accessibility Initiative of the World Wide Web Consortium.
The proposed new standard for Section 508 is expected to require conformance to the W3C Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 Level AA.
» Learn more about WCAG 2.0 website accessibility conformance.
Federal Complaints and Lawsuits
Failure to comply with requirements described in Section 508 Subsection 1194.22 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the University System of Georgia Web Accessibility Guidelines could result in complaints or litigation for the college and/or for the content creators.
Review a list of accessibility lawsuits, complaints, and settlements against more than 30 Higher Ed institutions.
Last updated: 6/2/2017