When the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) was enacted in 1990, the Internet as we know it today the ubiquitous infrastructure for information and commerce did not exist. Today the Internet, most notably the sites of the Web, plays a critical role in the daily professional, and business life of Americans.
Increasingly, private entities are providing goods and services to the public through websites that operate as places of public accommodation under title III of the ADA.
Many websites of public accommodations as e-comerce sites however, render use by individuals with disabilities difficult or impossible due to barriers posed by websites designed without accessible features.
Being unable to access websites puts individuals with disabilities at a great disadvantage in today’s society, which is driven by a dynamic electronic marketplace which provides unprecedented access to information. Electronic commerce, or “e-commerce,” often offers consumers a wider selection and lower prices than traditional, “brick-and-mortar” storefronts, with the added convenience of not having to leave one’s home to obtain goods and services. For individuals with disabilities who experience barriers to their ability to travel or to leave their homes, the Internet may be their only way to access certain goods and services.
For e-comerce sites to ignore people with disabilities as a market for goods and services is a tremendous mistake. This is a group that now includes twenty five percent of the general population and that number is only going to keep growing. The disability community now represents some three hundred billion dollars plus a year in disposable income not to mention the billions and billions of expenses of necessity.
People with disabilities represent a vast untapped talent pool ready to join the e-comerce workforce. With the rehabilitation funding and tax advantages available to employers it is again another great mistake not to seek out qualified individuals with disabilities.
All that is needed is for e-comerce entities to adopt an Access Ready Environments policy to take advantage of this ready customer and employee market place.
The ADA’s promise to provide an equal opportunity for individuals with disabilities to participate in and benefit from all aspects of American civic and economic life will be achieved in today’s technologically advanced society only if it is clear to e-comerce businesses, and other public accommodations that their websites and internal facing information technology systems must be accessible.