October 7, 2016
Chief, Disability Rights Section – NYA
Civil Rights Division
U.S. Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20530
Dear Chief Bond:
I write on behalf of the National Council on Disability (NCD) -- an independent, nonpartisan federal agency charged with providing advice to Congress, the President, and other federal agencies on matters affecting the lives of people with disabilities -- to offer brief comments in response to the Department of Justice (DOJ)’s Supplemental Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking regarding Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Disability; Accessibility of Web Information and Services of State and Local Government Entities.
NCD holds that technology that enables access to the full opportunities of citizenship under the Constitution is a right. As far back as 2001, NCD wrote, in its The Accessible Future report that making decisions without regard to their negative consequences for people with disabilities is discrimination unless there are no inclusive alternatives or such alternatives are so costly or impractical that they constitute an undue burden. When such indifference is manifested in the face of laws specifying a higher standard of care, the inference of discrimination becomes even stronger.
Five years later, in NCD’s The Need for Federal Legislation and Regulation Prohibiting Telecommunications and Information Services Discrimination report, NCD urged that promulgation of clear standards and design principles would be a critical element of bringing about equal access to the high-speed digital, wireless, Web 2.0 and related environments. Indeed, designing information and communication technology (ICT) that complies with Section 508, Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), and other standards is essential for developing accessible ICT.
Just this morning, NCD released a technology-focused progress report that contains a variety of recommendations to Congress, federal, state and local agencies, and private industry. Among them is our recommendation that DOJ’s rule should reinforce in plain language that the ADA relates to the Internet and incorporate WCAG 2.0 Level AA standards. NCD strongly supports DOJ’s adoption of WCAG 2.0 Level AA as the baseline standard of accessibility.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law in 1990, well before the Internet and other forms of ICT were significant everyday parts of life. However, it has been a relatively long time since these things became mainstays, and yet scores of people with disabilities continue to wait for regulation to make these fundamental portals to full participation equally accessible to them. For example, the traditional means of finding employment have largely been replaced by Internet-based postings and applications, which means many people with disabilities are denied the possibility of pursuing economic self-sufficiency on an equal basis with their nondisabled peers. Additionally, many applications for state and local services are online and often inaccessible, creating even more barriers to equality for millions of Americans. Finally, as Hurricane Matthew impacts the U.S. in the coming days, we’re soberly reminded that the ability to access public website information for up-to-the-minute emergency communications can literally be the difference between life and death. Accordingly, NCD urges DOJ to adopt an aggressive timeframe for the effective date of a final rule.
NCD stands ready to assist DOJ in any way that we can, including helping to convene members of the disability community who provided comment to DOJ regarding the NPRM. Please do not hesitate to contact us to discuss this further. Please contact NCD staff member Amy Nicholas, Attorney-Advisor, at firstname.lastname@example.org to follow-up on this correspondence.
 National Council on Disability, The Need for Federal Legislation and Regulation Prohibiting Telecommunications and Information Services Discrimination (December 19, 2006), accessed October 6, 2016, http://www.ncd.gov/publications/2006/Dec282006.
 National Council on Disability, National Disability Policy: A Progress Report (October 7, 2016), accessed October 7, 2016, http://www.ncd.gov/progressreport/2016/progress-report-october-2016.