Citation[edit | edit source]

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990, 42 U.S.C. §§12101 et seq. (1990).

Overview[edit | edit source]

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)[1] is a Federal law that provides broad nondiscrimination protection in employment, public services, public accommodations, and services operated by private entities, transportation, and telecommunications for individuals with disabilities. As stated in the Act, its purpose is "to provide a clear and comprehensive national mandate for the elimination of discrimination against individuals with disabilities."

Enacted on July 26, 1990, the majority of the ADA's provisions took effect in 1992.[2] The ADA Amendments Act,[3] was enacted on September 25, 2008, to respond to a series of Supreme Court decisions that had interpreted the definition of disability narrowly.

ADA and the Internet[edit | edit source]

Title III prohibits discrimination in the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations of any place of public accommodation by any person who owns, leases (or leases to), or operates a place of public accommodation.[4] The statutory language, which was enacted in 1990 prior to widespread internet use, does not specifically cover internet sites. The question is, then, whether the statute can be interpreted to include internet sites.[5]

One of the relevant issues in resolving this novel problem is whether a place of public accommodation is limited to actual physical structures. The courts have split on this issue with the First Circuit in Carparts Distribution Center v. Automotive Wholesalers Association of New England Inc.[6] finding that public accommodations are not limited to actual physical structures. The court reasoned that “to exclude this broad category of businesses from the reach of Title III and limit the application of Title III to physical structures which persons must enter to obtain goods and services would run afoul of the purposes of the ADA.”[7]

The Seventh Circuit in Doe v. Mutual of Omaha Insurance Co.[8] agreed with the First Circuit. In Doe, Judge Posner discussed the nondiscrimination requirements of Title III in the context of a case involving a cap on insurance policies for AIDS and AIDS related complications and found that "[t]he core meaning of this provision, plainly enough, is that the owner or operator of a store, hotel, restaurant, dentist's office, travel agency, theater, website, or other facility (whether in physical space or in electronic space) . . . that is open to the public cannot exclude disabled persons from entering the facility and, once in, from using the facility in the same way that the nondisabled do."[9] The court reasoned that "the owner or operator of, say, a camera store can neither bar the door to the disabled nor let them in but then refuse to sell its cameras to them on the same terms as to other customers."[10] However, Judge Posner found no violation of the ADA in this case and concluded that "Section 302(a) does not require a seller to alter his product to make it equally valuable to the disabled and nondisabled. . . ."[11]

The Second Circuit joined the First and Seventh Circuits in finding that the ADA is not limited to physical access. The court in Pallozzi v. Allstate Life Insurance Co.,[12] stated that "Title III's mandate that the disabled be accorded 'full and equal enjoyment of goods, [and] services . . . of any place of public accommodation,' suggests to us that the statute was meant to guarantee them more than mere physical access."[13]

On the other hand, the Third, Sixth, and Ninth circuits apparently restrict the concept of public accommodations to physical places. In Stoutenborough v. National Football League, Inc.,[14] the Sixth Circuit dealt with a case brought by an association of individuals with hearing impairments who filed suit against the National Football League (NFL) and several television stations under Title III alleging that the NFL's blackout rule discriminated against them since they had no other way of accessing football games when live telecasts are prohibited. The Sixth Circuit rejected this allegation holding that the prohibitions of Title III are restricted to places of public accommodations.

Similarly, in Parker v. Metropolitan Life Insurance Co.,[15] the Sixth Circuit held that the ADA's nondiscrimination prohibition relating to public accommodations did not prohibit an employer from providing employees a disability plan that provided longer benefits for employees disabled by physical illness than those disabled by mental illness. In arriving at this holding, the Sixth Circuit found that "a benefit plan offered by an employer is not a good offered by a place of public accommodation. . . . A public accommodation is a physical place."[16]

The precise issue of the ADA's application to the Internet arose in Access Now, Inc., v. Southwest Airlines, Co.,[17] where the court held that Southwest Airlines website was not a "place of public accommodation" and therefore was not covered by the ADA. The district court examined the ADA's statutory language, noting that all of the listed categories were concrete places, and that to expand the ADA to cover "virtual" spaces would be to create new rights.

Previously, on November 2, 1999, the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) filed a complaint against America Online (AOL) in federal district court alleging that AOL violated Title III of the ADA. NFB and other blind plaintiffs stated that they could only independently use computers by concurrently running screen access software programs for the blind that convert visual information into synthesized speech or braille. They alleged that AOL had designed its service so that it is incompatible with screen access software programs for the blind, failing "to remove communications barriers presented by its designs thus denying the blind independent access to this service, in violation of Title III of the ADA, 42 U.S.C. §12181 et seq."[18] The case was settled on July 26, 2000.[19]

A company's website was at issue in National Federation of the Blind v. Target Corporation,[20] where the district court denied the corporation's motion to dismiss to the extent it alleged that the inaccessibility of the retailer's website impeded the full and equal enjoyment of goods and services offered in the retailer's stores. The motion to dismiss was granted in part concerning the aspects of the website that offered information and services unconnected to the retailer's store. The court noted that the purpose of the ADA was "broader than mere physical access" and that "[t]o the extent defendant argues that plaintiffs' claims are not cognizable because they occur away from a 'place' of public accommodation, defendant's argument must fail."

The question of ADA coverage of Internet sites will undoubtedly continue to be a closely watched issue.[21]

It should be noted that this issue does not effect the requirement that federal government websites be accessible since the federal requirement is contained in a separate statute.[22] Section 508 requires that the electronic and information technology used by federal agencies be accessible to individuals with disabilities, including employees and member of the public. Generally, Section 508 requires each federal department or agency and the U.S. Postal Service to ensure that individuals with disabilities who are federal employees have access to and use of electronic and information technology that is comparable to that of individuals who do not have disabilities.[23]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. 42 U.S.C. §§12101 et seq.
  2. 42 U.S.C. §12102(b)(1).
  3. Pub. L. No. 110-325.
  4. 42 U.S.C. §12182.
  5. For a more detailed discussion of this issue see Richard E. Moberly, "The Americans with Disabilities Act in Cyberspace: Applying the 'Nexus' Approach to Private Internet Websites," 55 Mercer L. Rev. 963 (2004).
  6. 37 F.3d 12 (1st Cir. 1994) (full-text).
  7. Id.
  8. 179 F.3d 557 (7th Cir. 1999) (full-text), cert. denied, 528 U.S. 1106 (2000).
  9. Id. at 559.
  10. Id.
  11. Id. at 563.
  12. 198 F.3d 28 (2d Cir. 1999) (full-text).
  13. Id.
  14. 59 F.3d 580 (6th Cir. 1995) (full-text), cert. denied, 516 U.S. 1028 (1995).
  15. 121 F.3d 1006 (6th Cir. 1997) (full-text), cert. denied, 522 U.S. 1084 (1998).
  16. Id. at 1010. See also Lenox v. Healthwise of Kentucky, 149 F.3d 453 (6th Cir. 1999) (full-text).
  17. 227 F.Supp.2d 1312 (S.D. Fla. 2002) (full-text), appeal dism., 385 F.3d 1324 (11th Cir. 2004).
  18. National Federation of the Blind v. America Online, Complaint (Nov. 2, 1999).
  19. The settlement agreement can be found at the National Federation of the Blind [1] website.
  20. 452 F.Supp.2d 946 (N.D. Cal. 2006) (full-text). For a more detailed discussion of this case see Isabel Arana DuPree, "Websites as 'Places of Public Accommodation': Amending the Americans with Disabilities Act in the Wake of National Federal of the Blind v. Target Corporation," N.C.J.L. & Tech. 273 (2007); Jeffrey Bashaw, "Applying the Americans with Disabilities Act to Private Websites after National Federation of the Blind v. Target," 4 Shidler J.L. Com. & Tech 3 (2008).
  21. For a more detailed discussion of the issue see Ass'n of the Bar of the City of N.Y., "Website Accessibility for People with Disabilities," 62 The Record 118 (2007); Steven Mendelsohn & Martin Gould, "When the Americans with Disabilities Act Goes Online: Application of the ADA to the Internet and the World Wide Web," 7 Comp. L. Rev. & Tech. J. 173 (2004).
  22. Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act. 29 U.S.C. §794(d), as amended by Pub. L. No. 105-220.
  23. For more detailed information see

See also[edit | edit source]

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