The Justice Department will soon be seeking comment on four proposed rules to establish accessibility requirements for websites, movies, equipment and furniture, and 911 call-taking technologies, Attorney General Eric Holder said Wednesday at an event commemorating the 15th anniversary of the American Association of People with Disabilities.
Holder spoke as part of the Justice Department’s week honoring the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, known as the ADA. He pledged “aggressive and appropriate” enforcement of the landmark disabilities law — both in communities and the department itself.
“Over the last two decades, the ADA has helped to revolutionize the conditions of and societal perceptions towards Americans with disabilities,” Holder said. “The AAPA leadership, membership and network of supporters have been essential to fulfilling the roles the ADA was developed to achieve.”
The American Association of People with Disabilities has advocated for the disabled community since its inception in 1995. Its annual “Justice for All” event recognizes disability advocates, which this year included Reps. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) and Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I).
Former Attorney General and ADA advocate Richard Thornburgh also attended the event.
Technological innovations and social changes over the last two decades have changed the way the ADA is enforced, Holder said, in announcing the DOJ’s intention to issue the four new rules.
The Justice Department periodically reviews enforcement of the ADA. Rules proposed for public comment by the Bush administration in the summer of 2008 were put on hold when the Obama administration first came into office and paused all rule-making government-wide.
Justice Department spokeswoman Xochitl Hinojosa declined to comment further on the regulations.
Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Thomas Perez has said the DOJ believes that Title III of the ADA applies to websites, and the Justice Department would issue regulations to help companies comply with their obligations.
Perez said in April that technology “made communicating, obtaining information, entertainment, education and goods easier and more efficient. But many of these technologies, from Web sites to cell phones, from ticket kiosks to TV set-top devices, are either in whole or in part inaccessible to persons who are blind and other people with disabilities.”
“Companies that do not consider accessibility in their website or product development will come to regret that decision, because we intend to use every tool at our disposal to ensure that people with disabilities have equal access to technology and the worlds that technology opens up,” Perez said.
Echoing recent remarks from Perez, Holder also pledged aggressive enforcement of the Supreme Court’s decision in Olmstead v. L.C. — a 1999 decision recognizing the right for individuals with disabilities to live in their communities.
He emphasized the administration’s work with voter-rights agencies to ensure the National Voting Rights Act’s anti-discriminatory mandate includes voter registration services for people with disabilities.
“At its core, the ADA is about ensuring that all Americans can participate fully in our democracy,” he said. “That is why this administration is committed to protecting the fundamental voting rights of Americans with disabilities.”
Despite the department’s insistence on enforcement, Holder said he hopes states and localities will move toward incorporating ADA compliance themselves, without the threat of lawsuits. To achieve this, he highlighted the need for ADA education and outreach — the goal of the department’s Project Civic Access and Technical Assistance Program.
“[Efforts] extend far beyond lawsuits and settlements,” Holder said. “Acceptability and opportunity are best delivered voluntarily and cooperatively … When the ADA is well understood, its provisions are well executed. “
Holder said the department, through efforts by the Attorney General’s Committee on the Employment of Persons with Disabilities, is working to recruit and retain disabled individuals. He also announced a new position, Special Assistant for Disabilities, under Deputy Associate Attorney General for Diversity Management, Channing Phillips.
“Although we are not yet where we want to be on this front, the Justice Department is taking bold steps to ensure that we get there,” he said.
Additional reporting by Ryan J. Reilly.