You are on page 1of 6

SEP 9 1996

The Honorable Tom Harkin


United States Senate
Washington, D.C. 20510-1502

Dear Senator Harkin:

I am responding to your letter on behalf of your


constituent, XX , regarding accessibility of "web
pages" on the Internet to people with visual disabilities.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires State and


local governments and places of public accommodation to furnish
appropriate auxiliary aids and services where necessary to ensure
effective communication with individuals with disabilities,
unless doing so would result in a fundamental alteration to the
program or service or in an undue burden. 28 C.F.R. S 36.303; 28
C.F.R. S 35.160. Auxiliary aids include taped texts, Brailled
materials, large print materials, and other methods of making
visually delivered material available to people with visual
impairments.

Covered entities under the ADA are required to provide


effective communication, regardless of whether they generally
communicate through print media, audio media, or computerized
media such as the Internet. Covered entities that use the
Internet for communications regarding their programs, goods, or
services must be prepared to offer those communications through
accessible means as well.

Mr. XX suggests compatibility with the Lynx browser as


a means of assuring accessibility of the Internet. Lynx is,
however, only one of many available options. Other examples
include providing the web page information in text format, rather
than exclusively in graphic format. Such text is accessible to
screen reading devices used by people with visual impairments.
Instead of providing full accessibility through the Internet
directly, covered entities may also offer other alternate
accessible formats, such as Braille, large print, and/or audio
materials, to communicate the information contained in web pages
to people with visual impairments. The availability of such
materials should be noted in a text (i.e., screen-readable)
format on the web page, along with instructions for obtaining the
materials, so that people with disabilities using the Internet
will know how to obtain the accessible formats.

cc: Records, Chrono, Wodatch, McDowney, Hill, FOIA


n:\udd\hille\policylt\harkinxx.ltr\sc. young-parran

01-04337

-2-

The Internet is an excellent source of information and, of


course, people with disabilities should have access to it as
effectively as people without disabilities. A number of web
sites provide information about accessibility of web pages,
including information about new developments and guidelines for
development of accessible web pages. Examples include:

http: //www.gsa.gov/coca/wwwcode.htm
Center for Information Technology Accommodation
General Services Administration

http: //www.trace.wisc.edu/text/guidelns
Trace Center, University of Wisconsin

http: //www.webable.com/index.html

http: //www.psc-cfp.gc.ca/dmd/access/welcom1.htm

These sites may be useful to you or your constituent in


exploring the accessibility options on the Internet. In
addition, the Department of Justice has established an ADA home
page to educate people about their rights and responsibilities
under the ADA and about the Department's efforts to implement the
ADA. The address of the ADA home page is http://www.us-
doj.gov/crt/ada/adahom1.htm.

I hope this information is helpful to you in responding to


your constituent.

Sincerely,

Deval L. Patrick
Assistant Attorney General
Civil Rights Division

01-04338​

Deval Patrick
Assistant Attorney General
Civil Rights Division
10th Street and Constitution Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20530

Dear Assistant Attorney General Patrick:

I have recently been contacted by one of my constituents who


has a concern over the administration's policy on making Web
pages compatible for the disabled. I respectfully ask you to
review the administration's policy on this issue and send me a
clarification so that I might be able to respond to my
constituent's questions. It would be helpful if you could mark
your correspondence with my office to the attention of Laura
Stuber.

Thank you in advance for your assistance on this matter.

Sincerely,

Tom Harkin
United States Senator

TH/les

01-04339​

Mime-Version: 1.0
To: tom_harkin@harkin:senate.gov
Subject: ADA and web pages
Content-Type: text/plain; charset=us-ascii
Content-Transfer-Encoding: 7bit
Dear Senator Harkin,

I'm a web designer based I Iowa City, and also a lawyer. I contribute a
regular column to the Web Consultant's Association on-line newsletter.
My topics usually lean toward the small designer, but recently a
question of a different sort arose that interested me.

One of the great concerns of web designers today is providing web page
compatability for "web interpretters" for the blind and other
handicapped peoples. These systems require web pages to be Lynx
compatible, which means that the use of almost "essential" elements such
as imagemaps and tables render the pages inaccessible to such people.

Web designers, on the whole, would *like* to provide text-only


alternatives to commercial web sites, but our clients are, by and large,
not willing to pay anything extra for that service. An average estimate

01-04340​

ILLEGIBLE that it would raise the costs of each site, and continued
ILLEGIBLE, by about 35 to 40%.

ILLEGIBLE, someone recently noted that if one were to read the ADA very
strictly, it could be argued that a web page (especially in the case of
a government organization or public service agency) is a "public
accommodation", and hence could be required by law (under the ADA) to be
Lynx compatible. I think this is probably stretching the law a bit
beyond it's intent--especially since the ADA was passed before the web
became the popular tool that it is today. It does raise some
interesting points, though.

I posed the question to the list as a whole, and most designers (there
are 8000 on the list) seemed to think that this was just the type of
thing that might encourage people to "do the right thing" when they
purchased site design. On the other hand, others pointed out that
(beyond the initial cost concerns) government agencies would still mail
materials to anyone who called, so they offered a viable alternative.
My initial response was that, especially in the case of the blind, if
they aren't offering *braille* printed materials, the web converters
are, in fact, the *only* service the agency provides that can be
accessed by the blind in a manner "equal" to that provided to others.
This, of course, only spurred more interest.

Needless to say, no firm conclusions were reached. I'm sure there's


probably an activist-oriented organization out there that has thought
about this type of legal challenge, but as far as I know none are
currently before the courts.

I did offer to drop you a note, though, and see if maybe:

A. There is currently any discussion in Congress surrounding the issue


of equal access to the WWW for the handicapped, and, if so, whether that
is in fact linked to the general themes established by the ADA.

B. If not, would you be willing (or interested in) to provide a few


words of input on the subject (if nothing else by way of support to help
"encourage" those who are doing their best to forward this issue, and
maybe to prod those that aren't thinking about it into at least
recognizing the importance of the issue)?

In either case, I would be more than happy to forward any material you
thought appropriate to the WCA mailing list (and, if you were interested
in being associated with that issue, to other appropriate lists as well)
in the interest of at least providing some insight from the sponsor of
the ADA itself.

Sorry for the rather quick and dirty note--work calls. I hope my haste
hastened weakened the message.

Also, I'm not sure how your list of potential consultants on


web/Internet issues looks, but I'd be more than offer to volunteer what
services I could. By way of background, I have my BA in Communications
from the UI, as well as a J.D. and an LL.M. I'm currently the webmaster
at ACT in Iowa City, and President of my own web firm on the side. I
spent the last three years in Washington running a small non-profit, and
have some lobbying experience as well (as a clerk for the Chesapeake Bay
Foundation). I'd be more than happy to provide any feedback/comments or
any other services I could contribute in the effort to generate some
decent net legislation. (And if you're really interested in such an
offer, I do have a 15 minute fix to make the CDA not only workable, but
constitutional ;) ).

01-04341​

appreciate your taking the time to wade through this and, of course,
ILLEGIBLE you the best of luck in the coming election.
Sincerely,
XX

Webmaster - American College Testing


President - Digital Alchemy
(Standard Disclaimers Apply.)

01-04342