Southwest Airlines ADA RulingWednesday, October 23, 2002
The U.S. District Judge Patricia Seitz has dismissed the suit against Southwest Airlines for discrimination against a blind visitor to their website by disagreeing or misinterpreting the ADA and its associated legislation. She ruled that websites are not covered by ADA even though there is a US Department of Justice.
I posted on Usenet a summary of what I understood when comparing the conclusions of Government based MARTA case with the South West Airlines -- both based around ADA:
ADA covers government agencies, businesses working with governmental agencies and "Public Accommodations". The latter is businesses offering what is accepted as a service to the general public. ADA, and its many commentaries cover the definition of public accommodation, and although the wording hasn't been formally tested in a court of law, the Department of Justice has released a communication whereby it recognises businesses running a website offering a service to the general public are Public Accommodation.
South West airlines case
The South West airlines case referred to above wasn't thrown out because it was a private business, but because the judge believed it wasn't the intention of ADA to apply to websites (regardless of whether they are business or government).
The Marta case the judge ruled that ADA does apply to websites - the matter of whether the defendant was a government agency or not does not seem to be a factor in the ruling. If the point that the defendant needs to be a government agency is needed to be tested, then proceedings under Section 508 of the Telecommunications Act is sufficient - _that_ legislation is scoped to include websites of government agencies and companies doing business with governmental agencies.
In short, the ADA test above weren't about whether defendants were government or private businesses, but whether websites actually fall under the provisions of ADA. I wouldn't recommend reading that ADA only applies to government agencies on the Marta ruling unless the ruling specifies that particular point explicitly.
I await a Supreme Court ruling with interest, but nevertheless website accessibility should be something we should already be doing, regardless of any legal statute.
- Should Web-only businesses be required to be disabled-accessible? - Yes
- Court Holds ADA Requirements Do Not Apply To Internet Site - No
- US Department of Justice clarification - Yes
- Judge Rules That Inaccessible Website Violates ADA - Yes (Govt websites anyway)
Updated 21 May 2003 - Joe Clark, as well as covering the legal aspects of accessibility himself, kindly pointed out the following articles covering this interesting court case:
- Law.com: Suit Over Airlines' Web Sites Tests Bounds of ADA
- Toronto Star: Disabled Web-users flex their muscles
- Traditional litigation as a means of achieving access to technology 3/4 of the way down the page
- The Americans With Disabilities Act in Cyberspace
- Do Disability Laws Apply to the Web?
- The full text of the Southwest Airlines court decision
- Text of: Omaha World-Herald - The Internet minefield Federal court ruling averts jumble of unknown regulations in on-line case
- Digital Web Magazine: Accountability of Accessibility and Usability
- Case closed: Disabled access does not apply to cyberspace...for now
- Ruling doesn't affect Section 508 Web requirements, board says
Whilst searching for online material about this case, I came across the following resource:
Some excellent posts and resource references from Slashdot:
- Drawbacks of Flash on Accessibility
- Using a refreshable braille device to surf the web
- Tackling the myths of the web being only visual
- Tackling the misuse of HTML
- A flame on why Lynx is used
- IBM: Accessibility Checklist
- USDoJ: Myths and Facts about the ADA
- Some accessibility techniques