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 Oracle9iAS developers. Many Oracle systems have
front-end interfaces that are extremely difficult (if not impossible) for a
blind person to use.
discovered that Oracle and Oracle9iAS 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 Oracle9iAS 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
Around the country, Oracle and Oracle9iAS 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:
Provide an Access
Instruction Page for Visitors (includes email hyperlink for visitors to
communicate problems with web page accessibility)
Provide support for
Attach "Alt" tags to
graphic images so that screenreaders can identify the graphic
photographs with descriptive text "D"
Caption all audio
and video clips by using "CC" hyperlinks
mechanisms for on-line forms (such as email or voice/TTY phone numbers)
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
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.
– 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 Oracle9iAS developer meet the
“reasonable accommodation” standard to ensure that their interfaces are
friendly to the disabled.