Ask About the ADA

Federal Websites and the ADA

Q: Are federal websites covered by the ADA?

A: No. Because of the way that it was written, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) does not apply to federal agencies or departments in general—and that includes their websites. Instead, different sections of the Rehabilitation Act apply to different aspects of federal agencies and departments. The section of the Rehabilitation Act that covers federal websites is Section 508. Section 508 requires federal agencies to ensure that the electronic and information technology that they develop, procure, maintain, or use is accessible to people with disabilities.

More specifically, federal agencies must comply with the information and communication technology (ICT) standards created by the US Access Board. You can find out more about these standards on the IT Accessibility Laws and Policies page of the Section508.gov website.

More generally, even though federal websites are not covered by the ADA, they still must be accessible because of a provision in the Rehabilitation Act.

Courts and Accessible Electronic Documents

Q: I am an attorney who uses a screen reader due to my disability. I have a case in the circuit court. Must the court provide me with accessible versions of electronic documents?

A: The answer to this question is based on Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Title II covers state and local government and all related instrumentalities. A state or local court system falls into this category. As such, the circuit court must make their programs, services, and activities accessible to qualified individuals with disabilities. These individuals cannot be excluded from participation in or be denied the benefits of the services, programs, or activities of the covered entity—in this case, the circuit court. Thus, if the court uses an electronic document system, then those documents must be accessible to people with disabilities, including those like yourself, who use screen readers.

As the Department of Justice stated in a settlement agreement with the Orange County Clerk of Courts in Florida,

“A public entity must also take appropriate steps to ensure that communications with qualified individuals with disabilities—including individuals seeking access to a service, program, or activity of a public entity, as well as their companions—are as effective as communications with others, and furnish appropriate auxiliary aids and services, such as accessible electronic documents, where necessary to afford qualified individuals with disabilities an equal opportunity to participate in, and enjoy the benefits of, a service, program, or activity of the public entity, consistent with the requirements of the law.”

In short, what the settlement agreement is telling us is that communication for those with disabilities, as well as their companions, must be equally effective as communication with those individuals without disabilities. To do this, a covered entity (like the circuit court), must provide auxiliary aids (like accessible electronic documents).

So, to go back to your specific question, yes, the circuit court must provide you with accessible versions of documents related to your case.

Open vs. Closed Caption Videos

Q: I am trying to make videos on my website more accessible for my customers by adding captioning. Can you explain the difference between open and closed captioning?

A: Good question. Of course, you’ll want to add captioning to your videos so people who can’t hear them can still understand the audio content by reading text on the screen as the video plays. This text should communicate the essential audio, meaning not only the spoken words, but also non-speech sounds that convey meaning or impact, like footsteps or music that helps to set the mood.

Open captioning means the text is embedded in the video itself and will always appear on the screen as the video plays—the user cannot turn the captions off. With closed captioning, the user may turn the captions on or off.

Publishing accessible videos online requires thoughtful planning, because not all media players and streaming platforms support closed captioning.

Does the ADA make it unlawful to fire a worker who has a disability?

Under the ADA a person with a disability can be terminated if the reason is unrelated to the disability, they are not meeting the requirements of the job, with or without accommodation, and/or the persons disability poses a direct threat to health and safety in the workplace.

Reserved Parking for Renters

Q. I would like to have a reserved parking space at the apartment complex where I live because I have difficulty walking long distances due to my disability and the parking lot is first come, first serve. Does the ADA require the apartment complex manager to give me an accessible parking space?

A. If you live in a private apartment complex, then the ADA would typically not apply to parking areas that are provided for residents of the complex. However, the Fair Housing Act (FHA) would apply. The FHA requires that housing managers provide reasonable accommodations for tenants with disabilities. A common example of a reasonable accommodation request in housing relates assigning a person with a disability a reserved parking spot near their unit even though tenant parking is generally on a first come, first served basis.

So while the ADA would not apply in this instance, because none of its titles cover private apartment units, the FHA would apply. A request for this reasonable accommodation can be made under the FHA.

Where can I learn about the Fair Housing Act and how it is enforced?

The FHA is enforced by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity (FHEO). Similar to the ADA, the FHA is a law that is enforced via a complaint process that you can learn about here: https://www.hud.gov/program_offices/fair_housing_equal_opp/online-complaint

If you would like to learn more about where the FHA applies and who it applies to, you can visit HUD’s Office of FHEO here: https://www.hud.gov/program_offices/fair_housing_equal_opp/fair_housing_act_overview

If you want to learn about the design requirements required for dwelling units under the FHA, you can visit Fair Housing Accessibility FIRST here: https://www.fairhousingfirst.org/

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