The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a landmark legislation signed into law on July 26, 1990. The ADA is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life, including jobs, schools, transportation, and all places that are open to the public. The ADA Anniversary on July 26 is a momentous occasion to reflect on the progress that has been made in promoting equal rights and opportunities for people with disabilities and to raise awareness about the ongoing work that is still needed to ensure that everyone has full and equal access to all aspects of society.
History of the ADA
President George H.W. Bush signed the ADA into law on July 26, 1990, after years of advocacy by disability rights organizations and individuals with disabilities. The ADA was modeled after the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and other civil rights laws and was designed to protect the rights of individuals with disabilities in the same way that those laws protect the rights of individuals based on race, gender, religion, and other protected characteristics.
The ADA is divided into five sections or titles, each covering a different area of public life. Title I of the ADA prohibits employment discrimination against individuals with disabilities and requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to employees with disabilities. Title II of the ADA prohibits discrimination by state and local governments and requires them to provide equal access to all programs, services, and activities. Title III of the ADA prohibits discrimination by places of public accommodation, such as restaurants, stores, and hotels, and requires them to remove barriers to access. Title IV of the ADA requires telecommunications companies to provide relay services for individuals with hearing and speech disabilities. And Title V of the ADA contains miscellaneous provisions related to the ADA and disability rights.
Digital Accessibility and the ADA
While the ADA was enacted before the internet became a ubiquitous part of modern life, the courts interpreted the law to apply to websites and other digital technologies. This means that businesses and organizations that operate websites, mobile apps, and other digital tools must ensure that these technologies are accessible to individuals with disabilities, just as they must ensure that physical locations are accessible.
Many types of disabilities can affect an individual’s ability to use digital technologies. For example, individuals with visual impairments may use screen readers or other assistive technologies to navigate websites and apps. In contrast, individuals with mobility impairments may use alternative input devices, such as voice recognition or keyboard shortcuts. Websites and apps that are designed without consideration for these types of accessibility needs may be effectively unusable for individuals with disabilities, creating significant barriers to equal access.
The Importance of Investing in Digital Accessibility
Ensuring that digital technologies are accessible to individuals with disabilities is a legal requirement under the ADA and an essential way for businesses and organizations to demonstrate their commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion. By investing in digital accessibility, businesses and organizations can improve the experience for all users, including those with disabilities, and create a more inclusive and welcoming environment.
Investing in digital accessibility can also have significant financial benefits for businesses and organizations. By making their websites and apps accessible, businesses and organizations can expand their customer base to include individuals with disabilities, representing a significant and growing market. According to the World Health Organization, approximately 15% of the world’s population has some form of disability, meaning a need of over one billion people.
Furthermore, businesses and organizations that invest in digital accessibility can improve their brand impact, ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) rank, visibility, and bottom line. By demonstrating their commitment to accessibility, businesses and organizations can build a reputation as a sociA11y responsible and inclusive organizations, which can attract customers, partners, and employees who share those values. In addition, businesses and organizations that make their digital technologies accessible can avoid legal actions that could harms them financiA11y.