Business

Is the web leaving the blind and deaf behind?

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Being blind is tough, but buying stuff on the web makes it so much tougher.

That’s the plight for a lot of disabled folk, who say that online shopping sites aren’t doing a great job of providing accessibility options to those who need them, reports the Wall Street Journal.

At the center of the debate is the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act, which says that public accommodations like stores and movie theaters must provide equal access to the disabled. This means wheelchair ramps and automatic sliding doors, which are obviously a major help to those who need them.

But some disability advocates argue the law should be taken a bit further: If people are spending lots more time shopping on sites like Amazon, shouldn’t the online world be as accessible as the offline one?

Lots of companies, and a handful of courts, however, disagree. The Americans with Disabilities Act just wasn’t conceived with the Internet in mind, they say. More, websites aren’t “public accommodations” and equipping them with more accessibility options is often very complex and costs significant amounts of money.

Plus, well, the bind and deaf represent a tiny portion of the population. The return on investment probably isn’t there.

The law, however, could force companies’ hands. Under new regulations proposed by the U.S. Department of Justice, companies would be required to improve the accessibility of their websites with spoken descriptions and other more robust options.

The debate is an interesting one, and is yet another example of how vision of the open, egalitarian web is butting up against the realties of how much it costs to create it.


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