Comments of Lighthouse International before the Department of Justice in the matter of Document ID DOJ-CRT-2010-0005-0001

Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on Accessibility of Web Information and Services Provided by Entities Covered by the ADA

For further information, contact:

Lester Marks, MPA
Director of Government Affairs
Lighthouse International
111 E 59th Street
New York, NY 10022
lmarks@lighthouse.org

Dorrie Rush
Marketing Director for Accessible Technology
Lighthouse International
111 E 59th Street
New York, NY 10022
drush@lighthouse.org

These comments are submitted on behalf of Lester Marks, Director of Government Affairs and Dorrie Rush, Marketing Director for Accessible Technology at Lighthouse International. Lighthouse International was founded in 1905 and dedicated to fighting vision loss through prevention, treatment, advocacy and empowerment. Our comments will focus on accessibility from the perspective of persons with a visual impairment.

The issue of web accessibility is an area of great importance to people with a visual impairment and has been one in which Lighthouse International has worked to expand. Most recently researchers at Lighthouse International developed LowBrowse, a free add- on to Mozilla Firefox browser that allows users to customize a LowBrowse reading frame with their preferences for font, text size, color contrast and letter spacing. The growing reliance and use of the internet to conduct daily business- everything from shopping, to paying bills, to email- is ever more reliant on the use of the internet. While this has made communication more efficient for many, navigating the web can be a daunting and tedious chore for a person with a visual impairment. For example the increased use of CAPTCHA, also known as “Completely Automated Public Turing Test To Tell Computers and Humans Apart”, is software that is inaccessible to people with a visual impairment. Its increasing requirement to complete online transactions and purchases is just one example that points to the increasing need for accessibility in this area.

We support the Department of Justice’s efforts and urge you to issue a rulemaking in this area. We will focus our comments on a few measures that will enhance website accessibility and believe DOJ should clarify the existing effective communication provision in the ADA, and avoid applying the same concept of physical facilities to that of website accessibility.

The Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking requested feedback on a list of questions, many of which focused on the standards set forth by section 508 compared to the standards of WCAG. Both standards are important to the dialogue on the accessibility but we will not endorse one specific standard over another.

Effective Communication Title II of the ADA

We implore DOJ to clarify the existing general “effective communication” provision under Title II of the American with Disabilities Act. The effective communication provision means that “whatever is written or spoken must be as clear and understandable to people with disabilities as it is for people who do not have disabilities”. The effective communication provision requires information to be provided timely, accessibly and independently. This existing provision should be clarified to address the accessibility of websites. Doing so will allow websites the flexibility to construct their sites as they see fit, while adhering to the effective communication provision in the ADA.

Covered entities would comply with this provision unless the entity could prove compliance would cause an undue burden. When considering the proposed rulemaking it is important to understand that web accessibility means different things for different people, depending on one’s use and needed functionality. The adoption of a set of technical standards, such as 508 or WCAG, will not guarantee universal website accessibility, and could actually deter its progress.

Virtual World vs. Physical World

It is also important to note the proposed rulemaking for website accessibility does not draw a relation to accessibility of a physical world and apply similar concepts to that of a virtual world. There is a major difference between the physical world and a virtual world wide web. Websites are constantly changing, new content is added, and old content is removed and archived. It would be a major task to require the conversion of existing web pages to accessible ones, given the sheer volume and number of pages many websites contain. Regulations should also not limit the accessibility by assigning an arbitrary number that a website much achieve in order for it to be considered accessible. Doing so will only limit the accessibility of a website.

We thank you for the opportunity to comment on this Notice of Proposed Rule Making and to contribute to this important dialogue.

 

 

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