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Re: [FWD] Universities Legal Web Accessibility Update


From: Paul Bohman
Date: Nov 20, 2003 3:18PM

Here is some additional information about the legal picture for
universities and colleges, posted with permission from a personal
correspondence from Deborah Buck, Director, State IT Accessibility
Initiatives, Information Technology Technical Assistance and Training
Center (ITTATC), Georgia Tech's Center for Assistive Technology and
Environmental Access (CATEA).

With regard to the Tech Act and Section 508:

If 508 is interpreted to apply to
"state governments" there are several states where there are entities
such as schools and universities and other entities (e.g., Office of the
Attorney General, Office of the State Comptroller) that are separate
from and not under the authority of the Governor. In many cases, these
entities are not obligated to follow policies established by the
Governor's office. As such, the colleges and universities would not
automatically be obligated to comply. In other cases, there are
specific exemptions. For example, the state of Minnesota adopted their
own state- specific 508 legislation, but they exempted the University of
Minnesota. That said, I don't think that we can say that all schools,
colleges and universities are required to comply. You need to examine
each state on an case-by-case basis to make this determination.
<end quote>

With regard to Section 504:

You should take a look at the Department of
Justice's recent issuance of a technical assistance guide related to web
accessibility for states and local governments specifically with regard
to the ADA and 504. http://www.ada.gov/websites2.htm The
interpretation is in line with reasonable accommodation practices under
ADA and 504 versus the required procurement, development, maintenance
and usage of accessible electronic and information technology as
addressed in 508.
<end quote>

Other thoughts:

Regardless of whether states are obligated or not- it's just good
business to plan for accessibility. Trying to retrofit or provide
individual accommodations when the products and services can be made
accessible at the front end enabling users to be independent is cost
effective and improves quality of services to people with disabilities
and other users.
<end quote>

My own comments:

It's times like these that make me grateful that I'm not a lawyer ;-)

Obviously the waters are a bit muddy as to whether universities are
specifically required to abide by Section 508. But, as I've noted
before, it's almost a non-issue. Section 504 and the ADA should be
enough. One weakness that they both share, though, is a lack of
technical standards as to what constitutes "accessibility" for the Web.
In the absence of such a standard in the law, Section 508 may be a good
place to look for a standard, or, alternatively, the Web Content
Accessibility Guidelines of the W3C.

Paul Ryan Bohman
Technology Coordinator
WebAIM (Web Accessibility in Mind)
Center for Persons with Disabilities
Utah State University

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