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tive integration of accessibility will
account for accessibility concerns
throughout the development life cycle, at minimal cost. As with physical
architecture, where the cost of accessibility in new designs is small compared to the cost of retrofitting after
the fact, incorporating accessibility
features early in design may add only
2% to 3% to the cost and time of development. 14 Products and services
accessible from the outset provide all
users immediate access, while leaving
accessibility features for “version 2.0”
effectively discriminates against users
who need assistive features today.
Embracing accessibility might
also help technology providers avoid
exposure to potential liability under
laws that do not necessarily focus on
accessibility. Websites that provide
special online-only pricing for goods
or services might be engaging in illegal pricing discrimination if their
designs are either inaccessible6 or do
not consistently provide accommodations required by law. 4 The resulting
violations could involve multiple laws,
some possibly risking more serious
penalties than those associated with
the disability rights laws described
here. Likewise, recruiting websites or
employers requiring online applications without providing equal access
for people with disabilities could be
engaging in illegal forms of employment discrimination. 5
Accessibility is an issue outside the
U.S. as well. Just as in the U.S., laws
in other countries typically start by
requiring accessible government information. Australia, Canada, France,
Spain, and others have laws relating
to the accessibility of government information technology. The U.K., with
its Equality Act of 2010, was one of the
first countries outside the U.S. to require accessibility in the greater community for companies and organizations. For additional discussion of IT
accessibility laws outside of the U.S.,
see ACM interactions magazine’s forum on interacting with public policy
and the W3C’s Web Accessibility Initiative on government policy.
Weighing the trade-offs in policy re-
quires consideration of costs and ben-
efits from the perspectives of multiple
to avoid undesired (and unintended)
consequences, ACM members can
help make accessibility much less
For more on U.S. disability rights
law, see the blog by Sam Bagenstos, a
professor at the University of Michigan School of Law and former Deputy
Assistant Attorney General in the Department of Justice.
1. bagenstos, s. Disability Rights Law: Cases and
Materials. thompson reuters, new york, 2010.
2. Cerf, V. why is accessibility so hard? Commun. ACM
55, 11 (nov. 2012). 7.
3. federal Communications Commission. Biennial
Report to Congress as Required by the 21st Century
Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010.
washington, d. C., 2012; http://www.fcc.gov/document/
4. lazar, j., jaeger, P., adams, a. et al. up in the air:
are airlines following the new dot rules on equal
pricing for people with disabilities when websites are
inaccessible? Government Information Quarterly 27, 4
(oct. 2010), 329–336.
5. lazar, j., olalere, a., and wentz, b. Investigating the
accessibility and usability of job application websites
for blind users. Journal of Usability Studies 7, 2 (feb.
6. lazar, j., wentz, b., bogdan, m. et al. Potential pricing
discrimination due to inaccessible web sites. In
Proceedings of INTERACT (lisbon, Portugal, sept.
5–9). springer, london, 2011, 108–114.
7. office of management and budget. Improving the
Accessibility of Government Information. washington,
d. C., 2010; http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/
8. shapiro, j. No Pity: People with Disabilities Forging
a New Civil Rights Movement. random house, new
9. stein, m. the law and economics of disability
accommodations. Duke Law Journal 53, 1 (oct. 2003),
10. u.s. access board. Draft Information and
Communication Technology Standards and Guidelines.
washington, d. C., 2011; http://www.access-board.gov/
11. u.s. department of justice. Section 508 Report to
the President and Congress: Accessibility of Federal
Electronic and Information Technology. washington,
d. C., 2012; http://www.ada.gov/508/508_report.htm
12. u.s. department of education. Joint ‘Dear Colleague’
Letter: Electronic Book Readers. washington, d.C.,
13. u.s. department of education. Report of the Advisory
Commission on Accessible Instructional Materials in
Postsecondary Education for Students with Disabilities.
washington, d. C., 2011; http://www2.ed.gov/about/
14. wentz, b., jaeger, P., and lazar, j. retrofitting
accessibility: the inequality of after-the-fact access
for persons with disabilities in the united states.
First Monday 16, 11 (nov. 2011) http://firstmonday.
Jonathan Lazar ( email@example.com) is a professor of
computer and information sciences at towson university,
towson, md; this work was completed while he was the
shutzer fellow in the radcliffe Institute for advanced
study at harvard university, Cambridge, ma. he is also
chair of public policy for aCm sIgChI and director of the
universal usability laboratory at towson university.
harry hochheiser ( firstname.lastname@example.org) is an assistant
professor of biomedical informatics at the university
of Pittsburgh school of medicine and chair of the
accessibility subcommittee of the usaCm, the aCm u.s.
Public Policy Committee.
Copyright held by owner/author(s). Publication rights
licensed to aCm. $15.00
interested parties, including individu-
als in need of accessible technology,
educational institutions, and busi-
nesses and organizations that provide
information and services. Due to the
important effect that laws and regula-
tions have on interaction designers,
software engineers, Web developers,
and other IT professionals, it is impor-
tant to not only understand how the
laws affect developers but also to be
involved in the policy-making process.
Computing professionals inter-
ested in promoting accessibility can
engage with lawmakers, advocacy
groups, and industry partners to share
their understanding of accessibility
and encourage development of appro-
priate technology and policy. Com-
ments on proposed legislation and
regulation could raise concern as to
definitions or implementation chal-
lenges, identify potential unintended
consequences, suggest alternative ap-
proaches that might encourage acces-
sibility, and educate legislators and
rulemakers who might not be well
versed in the technical details. Par-
ticipation in bodies like the W3C can
help develop widely used approaches
for addressing accessibility concerns.
ACM has been involved since 1992
through its ACM U.S. Public Policy
Council (USACM) and accessibility
subcommittee. USACM actions on ac-
cessibility include a statement advo-
cating Web-accessibility principles
and comments on various policy pro-
posals related to the ADA, Section 508,
and accessibility of electronic health
records. Membership in USACM is
open to all interested ACM members
in the U.S. ACM seeks to educate poli-
cymakers and the public, as well as
the computer science community, on
science and technology. ACM engages
through USACM for technology policy
and the Education Policy Committee
for educational matters. ACM special
interest groups, including SIGAC-
CESS, SIGCHI, and SIGWEB, often
engage in accessibility issues; confer-
ences, including ASSETS and CHI,
showcase accessibility research.
Computing professionals have
much to contribute to the discussion.
By suggesting opportunities for bet-
ter design, outlining paths to afford-
able accessibility, and constructively
critiquing policy proposals aiming