While the newest internet fads go in and out of style in the blink of an eye, the past few years have seen an explosion of multimedia content, from podcasting to YouTube. In producing such material, however, it is important to account for those that the ‘information highway’ may be leaving behind.
Consider the case of Ms. Martinez:
When surfing the web, people with visual or hearing impairment depend upon screen access technology, which converts documents, web pages, and other text on the computer screen into synthesized speech or Braille. If a website is not properly coded, it cannot be read by this technology, and, consequently, users cannot access the functionality of the site. On an international level, The Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) "develops guidelines for accessibility of websites, browsers, and authoring tools, in order to make it easier for people with disabilities to use the web." To learn more about how various types of people with disabilities use the internet, click here.
In developing our website and materials, NCRCR has been working to ensure compliance with web accessibility standards and, even more importantly, that our materials are in fact accessible. There’s a lot of information available but it’s also taken some digging. Recently, for example, as we launched our Audio Interview Series, we committed to providing transcriptions of the interviews. Stay tuned for transcriptions of our video work as well.
Of course, Ms. Martinez’s reality and our work are highly tied in with our judicial system and even our legislature. At the federal level, two laws – the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) -- exist to help ensure equality in access. In 1998, Congress moved to require all federal agencies make their information technology accessible to people with disabilities. Agencies are required to give employees with disabilities and members of the public with disabilities access to information that is comparable to the access available to others. The Department of Justice also offers additional ADA standards for Accessible Design. Despite these efforts, many non-federal parties display little actual forethought and even less compliance with the right to equal access of information on the web.
Luckily, the courts remain at our disposal when we need to enforce our civil rights. One noteworthy lawsuit was filed in the state of California in 2006 by the National Federation for the Blind; they alleged that the website for Target stores was inaccessible to people with disabilities using screen access technology. In a settlement, Target was forced to bring its website fully in line with accessibility standards and to offer substantial compensation to those affected.
Similarly, a case was filed this year by college junior Darrell Shandrow against Arizona State University for its usage of the Amazon Kindle electronic book device in the classroom, citing discrimination against those with visually impairment.
It is heartening to see the courts uphold the principle of equality in access. Though many may not realize it, equality in access is a civil right. Each case that is heard on the issue is a step toward the ongoing struggle for civil rights. Therefore it is crucial we make our voices heard to ensure that the courts are moving forward to address injustice, not backward.