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IMPORTANT NEWS - Judge suggests USA Web Sites must be ADA Complaint

This is a very important announcement for anyone with a web site, and any company who deploys Oracle databases on the web. This article notes:

"A new federal ruling issued yesterday raises the bar for online businesses, requiring them to meet the terms of the Americans with Disabilities Act just as offline business have been required to do since the law's passage in 1990."

Oracle professionals may want to make their management aware of this ruling.  If your company has a retail web site (or any web service for the public), this may apply to you. 

This includes all web-enabled Oracle databases, including Oracle Application Server 10g, Oracle Application Express (Apex, formally HTML-DB) and customized Oracle eBusiness Suite systems.

This article says that failure to comply with the ADA could expose your company to hefty fines, not to mention the risk of expensive civil litigation and a getting a bad reputation for being unfriendly to the disabled:

"In addition to getting an order to follow the law, the Attorney General may ask the court to fine the public accommodation up to $50,000 for a first violation and $100,000 for a second."

The new Federal ruling on the ADA

This article titled "Federal Court Rules Online Businesses Must Comply with ADA" we see that a California Federal judge has allowed a lawsuit to proceed, ruling that that web sites are "public places of accommodation", and that they must comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

"The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California ruled yesterday that a retailer may be sued if its website is inaccessible to the blind. . .

What this means is that any place of business that provides services, such as the opportunity to buy products on a website, is now, a place of accommodation and therefore falls under the ADA."

According to CNN, the lawsuit is National Federation of the Blind vs. Target Stores, where the NBF claims that the Target online shopping web site that was inaccessible to the blind:

"The suit charges that Target's website is inaccessible to the blind and therefore violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the California Unruh Civil Rights Act, and the California Disabled Persons Act."

The CNN article also suggests that Amazon technology (a large Oracle shop) may be involved:

" is "powered by," something defined on the site as utilizing " technology and patented Web site capabilities such as 1-Click checkout to make shopping faster and more convenient for you."

Of course, the lawsuit is not over, and Target has not lost the case.  However, it appears that this ruling may open the floodgates for disabled people to sue anyone with retail web sites that are not accessible.

Opening the floodgates for lawsuits

This is very bad news for Oracle web portals because disabled people have a strong history of winning multi-million dollar judgments against business that do not provide them with equal access.  We can expect this ruling to open a floodgate of new lawsuits against commercial public web sites.  For example, The manufacturer of Automatic Teller Machines ( ATMs) was sued by the National Federation of the Blind because their ATM machines were not usable by the blind.  In a settlement, Diebold agreed to donate $1,000,000.00 to the NFB and agreed to equip ATM’s with voice-guidance capabilities.

The Americans with Disabilities Act guarantees that disabled people have a right to access any public "place of accommodation", and ADA compliant has historically been confined to wheelchair ramps and special bathroom fixtures.  However, disabled people have been expanding the law to include ATM and voting machines, and this most recent ruling, public web sites. 

This new ruling clearly defines any public web site as a public "place of accommodation", and your web site must now comply with ADA guidelines.  See the article Is Your Site ADA-Compliant ... or a Lawsuit-in-Waiting?  If you have a public web site that does not comply with ADA rules, you risk two actions:

  • Criminal Actions - Disabled people can report illegal web sites to the Department of Justice.  The DOJ can authorize a $50,000 fine for the first offense.
  • Civil Litigation - Disabled advocates have a long history is lawsuits against inaccessible public places, and multi-million dollar judgments are not uncommon.

While compliance is not yet legally mandated, many responsible companies want to "do the right thing" and make their web sites accessible to the blind and deaf.  This article says it best:

"When people with disabilities received legal protection, it wasn’t given out of pity. It was given to protect their right to participate equally in society.

Web designers and developers can enable that equal participation with every site they design, using modern coding principles. Or they can hide in a castle or a cave, clutching their legacy code, certain that those evil, litigious disabled people are out to get them."

Web Site Compliance with the ADA rules

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

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 accessibility)

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.

In sum, it appears that retail web sites must make every reasonable effort to make their web site accessible to the disabled.

Checking your web site for ADA compliance

You can check out your accessibility here, the famous Bobby tool.  Just enter the URL, and once it's done scanning you can click the "Accessibility" link.  Here is a sample output from Bobby, showing specific illegal areas on a public web site:

There are many companies that offer consulting support to warrant that your web site is ADA compliant.  Burleson Consulting offers a complete service that includes identification and correction of all illegal web components for Oracle9iAS, Oracle10gAS, Oracle Applications eBusiness Suite, Oracle Portal and Oracle Application Express (HTML-DB) systems.

ADA Compliance Auditing

All publicly accessible systems within the United States are required to adhere to Federal Law, and managers risk malfeasance if they do not audit their public web sites to verify that their web portals are accessible to the blind and deaf users.

For complete ADA auditing, verification and repairs by Oracle certified consultants, Burleson Consulting offers complete ADA validation support. 

An Oracle JD speaks

Dave Kreines, J.D., an Oracle DBA expert, law school graduate and author of the popular O'Reilly "Oracle DBA Pocket Guide" and "Oracle in a Nutshell" books, notes the process behind this new ADA ruling:

Any person (in this case, probably a member of the ADA class) can file a lawsuit. The first step by defendant would be to ask to court to dismiss the suit, and the ruling you have referenced is the ruling on that motion. The quote you provide is exactly right: the court ruled that "a retailer may be sued". It goes no further than that, and does not offer any opinion on the merits of that lawsuit.

What could happen next is that the lawsuit moves forward to a trial, at which time the plaintiff MAY win, which would then establish a precedent in the Northern District of California for the specific details of the lawsuit. The judge might also order specific remedies, which MIGHT include an order to make the sites more accessible in sme concrete way. This ruling (if it occurred) could then be used as a precedent in other Federal districts. For example, the Eastern District of Pennsylvania might hear a similar case.

But, the judge they might find differently. In that case, the plaintiff
could appeal to the Federal Court of Appeals. If the ruling in the Eastern District of PA is upheld by the Court of Appeals and conflicts with the ruling in California, then the case COULD be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which may or may not choose to hear it.

Actually, the scenario I described could also apply to the initial ruling to hear the case - that too can be appealed to the Court of Appeals in California, which may or may not uphold the trial court ruling. As you can see, this all gets very complex and more importantly, is very time consuming. Assuming there is no initial appeal, the suit against the retailer may not be heard for a year or more, and appeals could take years.  So, there is probably no real crisis yet.

In addition, if and when plaintiff wins this suit, the remedies (if any) ordered by the judge will not really become "law" in the usual sense, but would become an expected standard in the Northern District of California.  The Federal regulators who handle ADA (I'm not sure who that is) would then attempt to make new rules, which would almost certainly be litigated in another district. And it goes on...

ADA compliance References

Here are my notes on making web sites (not just Oracle back-end sites) compliant with the ADA:


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