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Don Burleson Blog 







Oracle and OracleAS developers may expose their employers to serious lawsuits

Oracle Tips by Burleson Consulting
April 19, 2003

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 blind people all across the USA.  During these interactions, I became aware of an important legal exposure for all Oracle and OracleAS developers.  Many Oracle systems have front-end interfaces that are extremely difficult (if not impossible) for a blind person to use.

I discovered that Oracle and OracleAS 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 blind and deaf employees, even if the company does not currently have disabled workers.

In short, it is the job of the Oracle and OracleAS 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 might be exposed to legal action if their system is not accessible to the blind or deaf.

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?? at this link:

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.?

Around the country, Oracle and OracleAS shops are publishing standards for accessibility of their Internet 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 in 1996.

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 screenreaders 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.


A Review of the Current Case Law: 

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 National Federation for the Blind (NFB), a leading advocacy group, has instituted lawsuits against purveyors of public electronic communications, with mixed results: 

  • Diebold - The manufacturer of Automatic Teller Machines ( ATMs) was sued by the NFB 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.

  • America Online ? AOL was sued by the NFB and nine blind people because they were unable to use AOL without the assistance of a sighted person.  In a landmark decision, U.S. District Judge Patricia Seitz said the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) applies only to physical spaces, such as restaurants and movie theaters, and not to the Internet.

In sum, it may not enough for an employer to voice-enable on Oracle systems using the popular ?Jaws? screen reader for the visually disabled, or disable sounds queues for the deaf, and the Oracle and OracleAS developer meet the ?reasonable accommodation? standard to ensure that their interfaces are friendly to the disabled.




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