Is your Oracle system compliant with Federal Law?
Oracle Tips by Burleson Consulting
As part of my volunteer work as founder of the Guide Horse Foundation,
(a charity to provide
Guide Horses for the blind),
I have frequent interaction with visually impaired people all across the
USA. During these interactions, I because aware of an important legal
exposure for Oracle and Oracle Application Server developers. Many Oracle systems have
front-end interfaces that are extremely difficult (if not impossible)
for a visually impaired person to use.
Many Oracle and Oracle Application Server developers may be exposing their companies to
multi-million dollar lawsuits by failing to comply with Federal Laws
that are designed to ensure access for the disabled. Under these
statutes, employers are required by Federal law to provide “reasonable
accommodation” for visually and hearing impaired employees, even if the
company does not currently have disabled workers.
Oracle and Federal Law
With these laws, it is the job of the Oracle and Oracle Application
Server developer to
ensure that their systems are accessible to the blind and deaf
employees, as required by the American’s with Disabilities Act (ADA).
Current case law suggests that this requirement applies to internal
Oracle systems, while the Federal Courts are split about whether
Internet systems are covered within the ADA.
Just as the owner of a business can be sued if they do not provide
wheelchair ramps, the owners of Oracle systems on the web can be exposed
to legal action if their system is not accessible to the disabled.
The International Center for Disability Resources on the Internet (ICDRI),
has published a great article on this topic titled, “Is Your Site
ADA-Compliant ... or a Lawsuit-in-Waiting?“.
This site sums-up the issue quite elegantly:
“That beautiful new law
firm site that your high-priced designer just created may be impossible
for a person using screen reading technology to navigate; particularly
if they are blind/low vision or have a specific learning disability.
Those “frames” or neat drop-down Java menus on your site may be
impossible to use via voice command software. Your fancy “streaming
audio” online CLE courses or video conferencing events may be impossible
for a deaf person to hear.”
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
The ADA was developed to ensure equal access for disabled people.
Originally intended to ensure physical access to public places, the ADA
has evolved over the past decade to increase in scope.
With regard to Oracle systems, the ADA has been interpreted by the
courts as applying to in-house computer systems. In other words, all
in-house Oracle systems must be usable to the visually and hearing
impaired. Making a system ADA compliant is a phenomenal challenge, and
some companies make special text-only versions of all screens to make it
easier for the visually impaired to use a screen-reader such as Jaws to
speak the text from the screen. For the hearing impaired, tone-based
alerts must be suppressed and replaced with visual queues.
All in-house Oracle system must be ADA compliant, even if your company
currently does not have any disabled employees. If your company were to
hire a disabled employee and they were unable to use your Oracle system,
your company could be exposed to millions of dollars in system
modifications and a huge lawsuit.
The ADA requires all companies to make “reasonable accommodations” for
the disabled, including modifications to computer systems:
- Modifications or adjustments to the work environment, or to
the manner or circumstances under which the position is
customarily performed, that enable a qualified individual with a
disability to perform the essential functions of the position, or
- Modifications or adjustments that enable employees with a
disability to enjoy equal benefits and privileges of employment as
those enjoyed by other similarly situated employees without
Because of this law, Oracle shops are publishing standards for
accessibility of their Oracle databases. Even cities are passing
standards for development, and the City of San Jose in the heart of
Silicon Valley published the City of San Jose Web Page Disability Access
Design Standard. From this standard, we see seven minimum requirements
to ensure accessibility for the disabled:
1. Provide an Access Instruction Page for Visitors (includes email
hyperlink for visitors to communicate problems with web page
2. Provide support for text browsers
3. Attach "Alt" tags to graphic images so that screen-readers can
identify the graphic
4. Hyperlink photographs with descriptive text "D"
5. Caption all audio and video clips by using "CC" hyperlinks
6. Provide alternative mechanisms for on-line forms (such as email or
voice/TTY phone numbers)
7. Avoid access barriers such as the posting of documents in PDF, table,
newspaper or frame format or requiring visitors to download software. If
posting in PDF, the HTML text or ASCII file must also be posted.
While many of these guidelines are optional, the scope of the ADA is
expanding to cover new ground. The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 contains
an important sub-section commonly referred to as Section 508. Section
508 guarantees all disabled US Federal Employees that all of their
computer systems will be accessible. Let’s take a closer look at Section
Section 508 and Oracle
Section 508 is important to any company that develops Oracle systems for
use by US Government bodies, and many analysts believe that Section 508
may soon expand in scope to cover non-Government systems.
The Information Technology Association of America (ITAA) is a task group
charged with interpreting the ramifications of ADA and Section 508. The
ITAA includes a representative from Oracle Corporation, and they
published a prediction of the increasing scope of Section 508:
“At first blush, the Section 508 issue may appear to be limited to
the federal procurement process. ITAA and its Task Group believe that
changes in Federal procurement standards will ultimately affect the
broader consumer software and technology market as well. The ultimate
regulations promulgated under Section 508 will be adopted by many states
in their procurement processes as well as most educational institutions
receiving funds from the U.S. Department of Education.”
To best understand the rules of Section 508, let’s look at Oracle’s
corporate policy for systems development. Oracle has developed an
Accessibility Program to address Section 508 and ensure that systems are
usable for the disabled. Oracle states “Oracle's goal is to ensure that
products and services are accessible to the disabled community with
excellent usability. Industry standards will continue to evolve over
time, and Oracle is actively engaged with other market leading
technology vendors in addressing technical obstacles.”
Oracle published a highly-detailed whitepaper titled “Accessibility in
Oracle Forms Applications” in 2002 that states the following guidelines
for Oracle development using Oracle tools:
In order to meet the needs of the disabled, all forms should have the
- A screen reader should have access to the value and `prompt'
for each item, so that a blind or low vision user can hear it. In
this paper that is referred to as the 'speakable prompt'.
- All functionality should be accessible from the keyboard only,
so that a user does not have to manipulate a mouse or other
- All color usage should be under the control of the user, so
that a low vision or color blind user can see all of the content.
- There should be no reliance on timed functions, so that a user
does not need to respond in a set amount of time.
- Flashing or animations should be avoided, or if present allow
a mode that disables them.
Oracle Forms provides sufficient attributes to meet these accessibility
- When an item takes focus, Oracle Forms passes the current
value, the speakable prompt, and other attributes of the item to a
- Every item is operable from the keyboard, either by allowing
navigation to it or allowing invocation via access keys.
- Every item can specify 'automatic' as the color at design
time, so that at runtime, the right color is chosen from the
user's control panel settings.
It appears that the blind advocacy groups and gaining significant
support for expanding the scope of the ADA and Section 508 to cover all
computer systems. Let’s take a close look at the current status of case
law on making web systems accessible to the disabled.
Federal Law and Oracle Internet Systems
With the requirement to make in-house Oracle systems accessible, many
blind advocacy groups such as the National Federation of the Blind
(NFB) are attempting to stretch the ADA laws to cover internet systems.
In 2003, the Federal circuit courts are split over whether the ADA can
be “stretched” to cover electronic systems and the Internet. The ADA
clearly covers all public “places” (restaurants, hotels, parks), but the
case law is evolving.
The Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) is an international group that
has published guidelines for web content, web authoring and web
usability. The WAI believes that web accessibility includes the
- Web sites and applications that people with disabilities can
perceive, understand, navigate, and interact with;
- Web browsers and media players that can be used effectively by
people with disabilities, and that work well with assistive
technologies that some people with disabilities use to access the
- Web authoring tools, and evolving Web technologies that
support production of accessible Web content and Web sites, and
that can be used effectively by people with disabilities.
There is a great Network World Fusion article titled “Lawsuit
attempts to force web site accessibility” that has a foreboding message
about web accessibility for the disabled: “While the Web masters may be
winning the battle, they also may be losing the war. When a Web site
isn’t fully accessible, it locks out a percentage of potential
customers. It is estimated that there are 54 million Americans with
disabilities. Can you afford to dismiss that many customers? These
lawsuits show that it’s time for e-commerce sites, particularly those
operated by large, deep-pocketed companies, to come into or stay ahead
of compliance with Section 508 of the ADA.”
Lawsuits and web systems
The National Federation of the Blind (NFB), a leading advocacy group,
has instituted lawsuits against purveyors of public electronic
communications, with mixed results:
Where do we go from here?
Companies that wish to present a community orientation and to posture
themselves as friendly to the disabled and already underway in ensuring
that their sites comply with the ADA and Section 508 guidelines.
However, tin the near future it may not be enough for an employer to
voice-enable their Oracle systems using the popular “Jaws” screen reader
for the visually disabled, or disable sounds to accommodate the deaf,
and the Oracle and Oracle Application Server developer should strive to meet the
“reasonable accommodation” standard of the ADA to ensure that their
interfaces are friendly to the disabled, and that their employers are
protected from litigation.
Access Now Inc.
The text of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA):
ADA accommodation requires a good faith interactive process:
Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (PUBLIC LAW 99:506):
The Information Technology Association of America (ITAA) task group
Web Accessibility Initiative:
City of San Jose Web Page Disability Access Design Standard:
Oracle Accessibility Program:
Section 508 Law:
Lawsuit attempts to force web site accessibility – Network Fusion: