Wednesday, July 28, 2010


The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) turned 20 years old on Monday. In "celebration," the Department Of Justice (DOJ) issued an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rule Making (ANPRM) related to new accessibility requirements being considered. These cover four areas. All four have some implication for the types of projects we should be thinking about as accessibility engineering researchers.

  1. Accessibility of Web Information and Services Provided by Entities Covered by the ADA

    Basically, the ADA, originally written in 1990, did not foresee the level of commerce, information, and services mediated by the web. There are still no explicit requirements in the ADA covering web accessibility. This proposes to change that by requiring that public entities provide some level of access to their web-based services and information. Think google apps/calendar/docs, transit information, and all the web sites built on inaccessible Flash. This could have far-reaching results and has major implications for accessibility of day-to-day services.

  2. Movie Captioning and Video Description

    This appears to apply entirely to theater-based content. Currently some studios and some theaters have both closed captioning and video description capabilities. In so far as it relates to description, this accommodation is currently entirely voluntary on the parts of the studios and theaters. This rule proposes to impose some requirements on theaters around the provision of captioning and description. My editorial opinion is that this is probably not a great idea, as the theaters are not the most relevant accessibility bottleneck. Rather, the availability of captioned and described content is the limiting factor. Any requirements should first be applied to the source of content, rather than the already-squeezed middle men. I also expect theaters to go the way of the buggy whip in the relatively near future, so such a rule would probably be of short-lived benefit.

  3. Accessibility of Next Generation 9-1-1

    This seeks to ensure that as 9-1-1 call centers move toward the ability to accept communications in a variety of formats (text, e-mail, video, etc.), the needs of stakeholders with disabilities continue to be considered. In particular, the DOJ seeks feedback on the types of communication methods currently being used by people with disabilities and the most likely future evolution of accessible communication tools.

  4. Equipment and Furniture

    Although this one might sound at first like the least interesting ANPRM, it is probably the richest in possibility for accessibility engineering researchers. This proposed rule would impose accessibility requirements on many types of furniture used in public/service settings (hospital beds, examination tables, etc.). However, it also proposes to apply to public information kiosks, exercise equipment, ATMs, point-of-sale devices, and other interactive electronic UI devices in broad usage. I could easily imagine it being relevant to slot machines, transit/airport ticket machines, museum exhibits, etc.

Now, if someone asks you about the new ADA DOJ ANPRMs you'll know what they're talking about, and you'll be able to tell them what Josh Miele thinks...

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