The Internet is an ever-expanding virtual space that plays a significant role in both our personal and professional lives. With this exponential increase in Internet use, the State and Federal governments have had to work around the clock to keep the web a place available to all Americans. So much of our learning, business, and personal development now happens online – with online courses, remote work opportunities, and websites running the gamut of interests, just to name a few. When it comes to Internet accessibility, there are many established laws that aim to create an equal playing field for all 56.7 million disabled Americans – including people with visual, audial, and intellectual disabilities.
The three most significant pieces of legislation affecting legal accessibility requirements are Section 504, Section 508, and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
Compliance with federal regulations by educational institutions is overseen and enforced by the Office for Civil Rights of the US Department of Education.
ADA compliance falls under the jurisdiction of the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice.
The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in programs conducted by Federal agencies, in programs receiving federal financial assistance, in federal employment, and in the employment practices of federal contractors.
Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act provides for the fundamental rights of people with disabilities and requires that all organizations that receive federal funding provide accommodations for equal access for individuals with disabilities.
Section 504 States: "no qualified individual with a disability in the United States shall be excluded from, denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under” any program or activity that either receives federal financial assistance or is conducted by any Executive agency.
Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act applies specifically to electronic communication and information technologies. It requires that websites, email, or web documents be fully accessible to all individuals regardless of a disability and includes software applications and operating systems, web-based information and applications, computers, telecommunications products, video, and multi-media.
The Americans with Disabilities Act
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities in employment, state and local government services, public accommodations, commercial facilities, and transportation. Title II of the ADA covers publicly-funded universities, community colleges, and vocational schools. Title III of the ADA includes privately-funded schools.
Title II applies to "... any and all state or local government and any of its departments, agencies, or other instrumentalities whether or not they receive federal funding."
Title III extends the reach of the ADA to include "places of public accommodation," including those furnished and maintained by private entities:
"No individual shall be discriminated against on the basis of disability in the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations of any place of public accommodation by any private entity who owns, leases (or leases to), or operates a place of public accommodation."
Places of public accommodation
Places of public accommodation are explicitly defined as including "private entities that offer certain examinations and courses related to educational and occupational certification," a designation that can be applied to most accredited higher education institutions in the US. Major lawsuits against Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology were filed by the National Association of the Deaf for failing to provide captions for their video materials.
IN SEPTEMBER 1996: The U.S. Department of Justice issued an opinion stating that Titles II and III require both state and local governments and the business sector to provide effective communication whenever they communicate through the Internet.
As a publicly funded institution, FIU is required to ensure that students with disabilities are not barred from participation in a service, program, or activity based on their disability.
Disability Resource Center
To that end, the Disability Resource Center (DRC) facilitates reasonable accommodations, which are made available so that students with disabilities have an equal opportunity to enjoy the full array of services, programs, and activities offered.