Here is another comment I posted on the Department of Justice’s proposed rule on Web Accessibility under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act. This comment addresses the need for the Department of Justice to consider disability equity, not just eventual equality of opportunity.
This rule, and all future rules and guidance documents authored by the Department of Justice related to the Americans with Disabilities Act should be based around the goal of achieving equity for those of us with disabilities, not equality of opportunity.
A good example as to where the approach of equality of opportunity falls short is in the area of this proposed rule dealing with accessible course materials. Under this proposed rule, course materials are only required to be accessible if a person with a disability registers for a specific course. Requiring courses to only be accessible after someone with a disability registers for them appears to eventually provide equality of opportunity to those of us with disabilities, but it certainly does not provide us with experiences that are equitable.
For example, I am interested in taking an online Spanish class offered by a local community college. I cannot simply decide which course I want to take and register for it, like people without disabilities can do. In order to take the course, I must also determine the college’s procedure for granting accommodations and follow the process they have established.
In this case, I have to do the following: find an email address I can use to contact the office that grants accommodations; determine what documentation they will accept as proof of disability; find an accepted professional who will provide proof of my disability; meet with the college to discuss accommodations; and then, hopefully, have the accommodations I need to take the course people without disabilities can simply take.
By not requiring universal accessibility, the law burdens me, as a blind person, to spend hours of additional time and resources to take a course than is required of people without disabilities. As a lawyer, this reality troubles me. I’m very aware of the problems many people with disabilities face navigating the different requirements we are forced to navigate before having any semblance of equality of opportunity.
The Americans with Disabilities Act will never come close to realizing its potential as a civil rights law as long as the processes of achieving civil rights and gaining access to equal opportunity are unduly burdensome and logistically problematic. Moving forward, the Department of Justice must look at the equity of experience associated with accessing goods, programs, services, and the like, not simply continuing to focus on whether those of us with disabilities were eventually able to achieve a relative degree of equality of opportunity. If society is ever to truly include those of us with disabilities, society must embrace concepts of universal design.