How ADA-For-The-Web Regulations Could Kill This Website
So few people understand how laws passed can be used — and easily misused. Stretched into something they were never supposed to be (or not what they were said to be about, anyway). . . .
Next in line for stretching is the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Walter Olson has been following the Obama administration's apparent intent to publish new interpretations of it, and he linked to Hans Bader's writeup at CEI:
"Can websites be forced to change to accommodate the disabled — by using "simpler language" to appeal to the "intellectually disabled," or by making them accessible to the blind and deaf at considerable expense?
Generally, the First Amendment gives you the right to choose who to talk to and how, without government interference. There is no obligation to make your message accessible to the whole world, and the government can't force you to make your speech accessible to everyone, much less appealing to them. The government couldn't require you to give speeches in English rather than Spanish to reach a larger number of listeners. And the Supreme Court once noted that the poem Jabberwocky is protected by the First Amendment, even though it makes no sense to most people.
But now, the Obama administration appears to be planning to use the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to force many web sites to either accommodate the disabled, or shut down. Given the enormous cost of complying, many small web sites might well just go dark and shut down. The administration wants to treat web sites as "places of public accommodation" subject to the ADA, even though they are not physical places. Courts used to reject this argument when it was made just by disabled plaintiffs, but now that the Justice Department is making it, too, some judges are beginning to buy it, opening the door to trial lawyers surfing the web and sending out extortionate demand letters to every small business whose web site is not accessible to the blind (or perhaps too hard to understand for the mentally-challenged)."
Bader gives some examples from Walter Olson, from his testimony to Congress, of awful changes that would ensue, like that amateur publishing would become "more of a legal hazard." They'd go after websites like mine, that make a few shekels from Amazon links and a few more from Google ads. I need this money to supplement the money that's fallen out of newspaper writing; also, I love the people who comment here and the discussion that goes on. It's what keeps my eyes pried open at 11 p.m. when I need to post a blog item half an hour after I should have gone to bed for my 5 a.m. book- and column-writing wakeup time. . . .
The defenders of expansive ADA interpretations say that the government's compelling interest in eradicating discrimination against the disabled overrides any competing First Amendment rights. If this frightening argument is accepted, states that have disabled-rights laws even broader than the ADA — like public-accommodation laws that apply to private clubs and associations — will eventually try to impose their restrictions on the web sites of small non-profit groups, using such laws to silence non-profits because of their inability to design their web sites to accommodate every conceivable disability.