National Council on Disability Says Americans with Disabilities Act Applies to Commercial and Other Private Web Sites

July 11, 2003

WASHINGTON-The National Council on Disability today released a policy paper that analyzes and answers the critical question: Does the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) apply to commercial and other private sector Web sites, and if so, what does it require?

Much discussion of this question seems to be conducted without careful attention to the case law and other authorities that have already built-up around this question. Beginning with a brief discussion of the role electronic communication has come to play in our lives, the paper then goes on to the placement of the ADA in the context of current technology and of computer usage in our country. Though many people are familiar with the term “digital divide,” the paper suggests that we should be focusing on the opportunities offered by the “digital future.”

NCD analyzed all the legal background to the ADA and Internet access issue, pointing out authorities and scholarship on both sides of the question, and identifying as carefully and precisely as possible what these authorities actually do and do not say.

Through this process, the narrow legal issues, bearing mostly upon the definition of the word “place” in Title III of the ADA, are brought into clear focus. The paper also analyzes the meaning and application of this term, in light of the ADA’s legislative history, its plain meaning, and court decisions applying this term in nontechnology-based settings.

Many authorities, including those that are opposed to the view that the ADA should apply to e-commerce, are cited and discussed. But based on all the authorities, the paper reaches the conclusion that the law does clearly contemplate the coverage of the Internet by Title III of the ADA. Finally, the paper explains the practical and economic arguments that should guide those who may be called upon to apply the law, suggesting strategies by which the accessibility principle can be broadly implemented without disruption and with benefit to consumers and business alike.

NCD is an independent federal agency making recommendations to the President and Congress on disability policy. NCD first proposed and then drafted the original Americans with Disabilities Act.

For more information, contact Mark Quigley at 202-272-2004.