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Able Tech

NY Attorney General Opinion On Accessible Web

Press release: http://www.oag.state.ny.us/press/2004/aug/aug19a_04.html

August 19, 2004
Department of Law The State Capitol Albany, NY 12224

--- Text of press release ---
NY ATTORNEY GENERAL AGREEMENT TO MAKE WEB SITES ACCESSIBLE TO THE BLIND AND VISUALLY IMPAIRED

Attorney General Eliot Spitzer today announced settlements with two major travel web sites that will make the sites far more accessible to blind and visually impaired users. The web sites, Ramada.com and Priceline.com, have agreed to implement a variety of accessibility standards that will permit users of assistive technology, such as screen reader software, to more easily navigate these web sites. "Accessible web sites are the wave of the future and the right thing to do. We applaud these companies for taking responsible and proper steps to make their web sites accessible to the blind and visually impaired," Spitzer said. "We urge all companies who have not done so to follow their lead."

The Attorney General opined that the Americans With Disabilities Act requires that private web sites be accessible to blind and visually impaired Internet users. The ADA generally dictates that all "places of public accommodation" and all "goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations" of places of public accommodation, must be made accessible to disabled citizens, absent undue hardship. New York law provides similar civil rights protections.

Many blind and visually impaired individuals use assistive technology, such as "screen reader software," to operate computers and surf the Internet. Screen reader software converts text into speech and reads pages upon display -- usually from top to bottom and left to right, as if reading a book. To be accessible to the blind and visually impaired, a web site must utilize a computer code that is comprehensible to screen reader software.

During investigations conducted in 2003 and earlier this year, the Attorney General found that portions of the Ramada.com and Priceline.com web sites were not accessible to this type of assistive technology. Under the terms of the agreements, the companies will implement a range of accessibility standards authored by the Web Accessibility Initiative ("WAI") of the World Wide Web Consortium ("W3C"), an organization that recommends Internet standards. For instance, graphics and images must have comprehensible labels, tables must have appropriately placed row and column headers, and edit fields (boxes where the Internet user inputs information) which must be labeled to indicate which information is requested. The companies must also implement a wide variety of other initiatives, based on guidelines authored by the W3C.

Advocates for the visually impaired applauded the settlements. "By implementing design standards that allow screen reader software and other assistive technology to function effectively with interactive web sites, companies will make tremendous strides in closing the 'digital divide' for visually impaired users," said Carl Augusto, president and CEO of the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB). "As the Internet continues to become an increasingly important tool for business, commerce, and leisure activities, it is imperative that all companies ensure their web sites are accessible for all users - including people who are blind or have low vision." The Attorney General also extended his thanks to the American Foundation for the Blind, for its invaluable assistance, as well as to the Baruch College Computer Center for Visually Impaired People.

In addition to the steps outline above, Ramada.com and Priceline.com will pay the State of New York $40,000 and $37,500, respectively, as costs of the investigation. The Attorney General emphasized that once the companies were notified of the accessibility issues by his office, they worked cooperatively and creatively with his Internet Bureau to correct the issues. Both cases were handled by Assistant Attorney General Elizabeth Nieliwocki of the Attorney General's Internet Bureau, under the direction of Kenneth Dreifach, Chief of that bureau, with assistance from the Civil Rights Bureau.