Legal Aspects of Interface Accessibility

Lazar J, Hochheiser H. Legal Aspects of Interface Accessibility in the U.S. Communications of the ACM. 2013 Dec; 56 (12):74-80.

Asking "why is accessibility so hard?," Vinton G. Cerf explored some of the design challenges associated with building interfaces for users with disabilities.2 As real as these difficulties may be, they fail to tell the whole story. The technical complexity of making interfaces accessible to people with visual, auditory, motor, or cognitive impairments is matched by a daunting regulatory and legal framework. In the U.S., accessibility is the subject of the numerous federal statutes, regulations, and reports that define implementation of complex legislation. A growing body of legal precedents, as well as state and local laws, adds further complexity.

Wading through it all might cause some software developers to long for the simplicity of building cross-browser websites. For example, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act require universities to provide accessible information technology, though the technical standards defining compliance are in Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act; for more on these laws, as well as other laws, regulations, specifications, and recommendations, see the sidebar "For More Information." State laws relating to accessible information technology add further complication. Inconsistencies between state and federal law, as well as a general lack of clear guidelines defining compliance with various laws, add more, particularly for software developers who generally lack formal training in the law concerning disability rights.

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Lazar J, Hochheiser H