Article on the "Legal Aspects of Interface Accessibility in the U.S."

By Renee Dopplick, ACM Director of Public Policy
December 3, 2013

The December issue of the Communications of the ACM includes an article co-authored by USACM Accessibility Committee Chair Harry Hochheiser and committee member Jonathan Lazar on the “Legal Aspects of Interface Accessibility in the U.S.” Their article responds to and expands upon ACM President Vint Cerf’s article from a year ago, “Why Is Accessibility So Hard?

Vint Cerf’s article, published in the Communications of the ACM in November 2012, sought to spark a dialogue on how to improve accessibility in the field. He highlighted some challenges to accessible adaptation, including the proliferation of platforms, the wide range of modes of interaction, the unlimited variations of applications, and the diverse needs of users. He stated that “no amount of automatic adapting will make a poorly designed interface accessible.” He asserted that accessibility, like security, needs to be “built in” to the initial design. He concluded by inviting ACM members, SIGs, UX design experts, and users to provide their thoughts on how we can “approach this problem with a richer combination of design principles, pragmatic tactics, and artful implementations than we have in hand today.”

Why is accessibility so hard? Technology is only part of the reason. . .

Asserting that technical hurdles are only part of the overall challenge, Hochheiser and Lazar state, “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.” The article discusses accessible design, including the role of standards, guidelines, and practices to support accessibility and usability. The article then explores the framework of federal and state laws and regulations and how the legal landscape can create perceptions of accessibility as difficult to implement. They conclude with a call to action for computing professionals to be involved in public policy discussions related to accessibility. The article concludes with a list of helpful and informative articles, websites, and other resources.