Internet Justice: Reconceptualizing the Legal Rights of Persons with Disabilities to Promote Equal Access in the Age of Rapid Technological Change

Main Article Content

Paul T. Jaeger


accessibility, internet, social justice


Although a range of laws and regulations have been created in the United States to promote online accessibility for persons with disabilities, tremendous disparities persist in access to Internet technologies and content. Such inaccessibility is an enormous barrier to equality and participation in society for persons with disabilities. The current legal approaches to online accessibility have not proven successful, focusing on specific technologies and technical solutions to accessibility. This paper argues for a reconceptualization of the approach to promoting legal guarantees of online access for persons with disabilities, focusing on information and communication goals, the processes of accessing information, and new approaches to monitoring, guidance, and enforcement. Without a broader conception of accessibility under the law, persons with disabilities risk being increasingly excluded from the technologies and content of the Internet that are coming to define social, educational, employment, and government interactions.
Abstract 663 | PDF Downloads 127 Word Downloads 14 Text Downloads 82


Abrar, A., & Dingle, K. (2009). From madness to method: The Americans with Disabilities Act meets the internet. Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review, 44, 133-157.

Access Board. (2010a). Board releases draft refresh of Section 508 standards and Section 255 guidelines. Retrieved from:

Access Board. (2010b). Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) accessibility guidelines for buildings and facilities; Telecommunications Act accessibility guidelines; electronic and information technology accessibility standards: Advance notion of proposed rulemaking. Retrieved from:

Albrecht, G. L., & Verbugge, L. M. (2000). The global emergence of disability. In G. L. Albrecht, R. Fitzpatrick, & S. C. Scrimschaw (Eds.), The handbook of social studies in health and medicine (pp. 293-307). London: Sage.

Areheart, B. A. (2008). When disability isn’t “just right”: The entrenchment of the medical model of disability and the goldilocks dilemma. Indiana Law Journal, 83(1), 181-232.

Anderson, P., & Jonssson, B. (2005). Being there. Disability & Society, 20, 719-733.

Barnartt, S., & Scotch, R. (2001). Disability protests: Contentious politics 1970-1999. Washington DC: Gallaudet University Press.

Barnes, C., & Mercer, G. (2003). Disability. Cambridge, UK: Polity.

Bashaw, J. (2008). Applying the Americans with Disabilities Act to private websites after National Federation of the Blind v. Target. Shidler Journal of Law Commerce, and Technology, 4, 3-25.

Bertot, J. C., Jaeger, P. T., & Grimes, J. M. Promoting transparency and accountably through ICTs, social media, and collaborative e-government. Manuscript in preparation. Transforming Government: People, Process and Policy.

Bertot, J. C., Jaeger, P. T., & Hansen, D. The impact of polices on government social media usage: Issues, challenges, and recommendations. Manuscript in preparation. Government Information Quarterly.

Bertot, J. C., Jaeger, P. T., Shuler, J. A., Simmons, S. N., & Grimes, J. M. (2009). Reconciling government documents and e-government: Government information in policy, librarianship, and education. Government Information Quarterly, 26, 433-436.

Bound, J., & Waidmann, T. (2002). Accounting for recent declines in employment rates among working-aged men and women with disabilities. Journal of Human Resources, 37, 231-250.

Bowe, F. G. (1993). Access to the information age: Fundamental decisions in telecommunications policy. Policy Studies Journal, 21(4), 765-774.

Bowker, N., & Tuffin, K. (2002). Disability discourses for online identities. Disability and Society, 17, 327-344.

Bradbard, D. A., Peters, C., & Caneva, Y. (2010). Web accessibility policies at land-grant universities. Internet and Higher Education.

Bruyere, S., Erickson, W. E., & Looy, S. (2005). Information technology and the workplace: Implications for persons with disabilities. Disability Studies Quarterly, 25(2). Retrieved from:

Burnett, G., Jaeger, P. T., & Thompson, K. M. (2008). The social aspects of information access: The viewpoint of normative theory of information behavior. Library & Information Science Research, 30, 56-66.

Burns, K. K., & Gordon, G. L. (2010). Analyzing the impact of disability legislation in Canada and the United States. Journal of Disability Policy Studies, 20, 205-218.

Carlson, S. (2004). Left out online: Electronic media should be a boon for people with disabilities, but few colleges embrace the many new technologies that could help. Chronicle of Higher Education, 50(40), A23.

Colker, R. (2005). The disability pendulum: The first decade of the Americans with Disabilities Act. New York: New York University.

Corcoran, L. (2011). ADA and the Internet: Standardizing the accessibility of web sites. Retrieved from:

Crawford, C. (2003). Cyberplace: Defining a right to Internet access through public accommodation law. Temple Law Review, 76, 225-280.

Culnan, M. J. (1983). Environmental scanning: The effects of task complexity and source accessibility on information gathering behavior. Decision Sciences, 14(2), 194-206.

Culnan, M. J. (1984). The dimensions of accessibility to online information: Implications for implanting office information systems. ACM Transactions on Office Information Systems, 2(2), 141-150.

Culnan, M. J. (1985). The dimensions of perceived accessibility to information: Implications for the delivery of information systems and services. Journal of the American Society for Information Science, 36(5), 302-308.

Davis, J. J. (2002). Bending over backwards: Disability, dismodernism, and other difficulty positions. New York: New York University Press.

Dispenza, M. L. (2002). Overcoming the new digital divide: Technology accommodations and the undue hardship defense under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Syracuse Law Review, 52, 159-181.

Dobransky, K., & Hargittai, E. (2006). The disability divide in internet access and use. Information Communication & Society, 9, 313-334.

Downey, G. J. (2008). Closed captioning: Subtitling, stenography, and digital convergence of text with television. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Downey, G. J. (2010). Teaching reading with television: Constructing closed captioning using rhetoric of literacy. In A. R. Nelson, & J. L. Rudolph (Eds.), Education and the Culture of Print in Modern America (pp. 191-214). Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press

Draffon, E. A. (2009). Assistive technology. In D. Pollack (Ed.), Neurodiversity in higher education: Positive responses to specific learning strategies (pp. 217-242). West-Sussex: Wiley-Blackford.

Ellison, J. (2004). Assessing the accessibility of fifty United States government Web pages: Using Bobby to check on Uncle Sam. First Monday, 9(7). Retrieved from:

Else, S. (2008). Courts must welcome the reality of the modern world: Cyberspace is the place under Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Washington and Lee Law Review, 65, 1121-1158.

Federal Communications Commission. (2010). The national broadband plan: Connecting America. Washington DC: Author. Retrieved from:

Fleischer, D. Z., & Zames, F. (2001). The disability rights movement: From charity to confrontation. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.

Fox, S. (2011a). Americans living with disability and their technology profile. Washington, DC: Pew Internet and American Life Project.

Fox, S. (2011b). What people living with disability can teach us. Washington, DC: Pew Internet and American Life Project.

Frieden, R. (2003). Adjusting the horizontal and vertical in telecommunications regulation: A comparison of the traditional and a new layered approach. Federal Communication Law Journal, 55, 207-250.

Goggin, G., & Newell, C. (2000). An end to disabling policies? Toward enlightened universal service. Information Society, 16, 127-133.

Goggin, G., & Newell, C. (2003). Digital disability: The social construction of disability in new media. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield.

Goggin, G., & Newell, C. (2006). Disability, identity, and interdependence: ICTs and new social norms. Information Communication & Society, 9, 309-311.

Gordon, D. I., & Kundra, V. (2010). Memorandum for Chief Acquisitions Officers and Chief Information Officers: Improving the accessibility of government information. Washington DC: Office of Management and Budget. Retrieved from:

Gulliksen, J., Alexson, H., Persson, H., & Goransson, B. (2010). Accessibility and public policy in Sweden. Interactions, 17(3), 26-29.

Guo, B., Bricout, J. C., & Huang, J. (2005). A common open space or a digital divide? A social model perspective on the online disability community in china. Disability and Society, 20, 49-66.

Hackett, S., Parmanto, B., & Zeng, X. (2004). Accessibility of Internet websites through time. Proceedings of the ACM Conference on Assistive Technology (ASSETS), 32-39.

Harper, K. A, & DeWaters, J. (2008). A quest for website accessibility in higher education institutions. Internet and Higher Education, 11, 160-164.

Higgins, C., Jr. (2009, Sept. 14). Insurers shun multitasking speech devices. New York Times. Retrieved from:

Horrigan, J. B. (2010). Broadband adoption and use in America. Washington DC: Federal Communications Commission.

Howard, A. (2011). Pew: Disability or illness hinders many Americans from using the Internet. Retrieved from:

Jaeger, P. T. (2004). Beyond Section 508: The spectrum of legal requirements for accessible e-government websites in the United States. Journal of Government Information, 30(4), 518-533.

Jaeger, P. T. (2006a). Telecommunications policy and individuals with disabilities: Issues of accessibility and social inclusion in the policy and research agenda. Telecommunications Policy, 30(2), 112-124.

Jaeger, P. T. (2006b). Assessing Section 508 compliance on federal e-government websites: A multi-method, user-centered evaluation of accessibility for persons with disabilities. Government Information Quarterly, 23(2), 169-190.

Jaeger, P. T. (2009). Persons with disabilities and intergenerational universal usability. Interactions, 16(3), 66-67.

Jaeger, P. T. (2011). Disability and the Internet: Access, inclusion, and virtual barriers. Boulder, CO: Lynne Reiner.

Jaeger, P. T., & Bowman, C. A. (2005). Understanding disability: Inclusion, access, diversity, & civil rights. Westport, CT: Praeger.

Jaeger, P. T., & Burnett, G. (2010). Information worlds: Social context, technology, & information behavior in the age of the internet. London: Routledge.

Jaeger, P. T., & Matteson, M. (2009). E-government and technology acceptance: The implementation of Section 508 guidelines for e-government websites. Electronic Journal of E-Government, 7(1), 87-98. Retrieved from:

Jaeger, P. T., & McClure, C. R. (2004). Potential legal challenges to the application of the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) in public libraries: Strategies and issues. First Monday, 9(2). Retrieved from:

Jaeger, P. T., & Xie, B. (2009). Developing online community accessibility guidelines for persons with disabilities and older adults. Journal of Disability Policy Studies, 20, 55-63.

Johnson, A. D. (2004). Assistive technology changes lives: Opening a window to the world. Diversity, Inc., 3(3), 23-32.

Kanayama, T. (2003). Leaving it all up to industry: People with disabilities and the Telecommunications Act of 1996. Information Society, 19, 185-194.

Keates, S., & Clarkson, P. J. (2003). Countering design exclusion: Bridging the gap between usability and accessibility. Universal Access in the Information Society, 2, 215-225.

Kennard, W. E., & Lyle, E. E. (2001). With freedom comes responsibility: ensuring that the next generation of technologies is accessible, usable, and affordable. CommLaw Conspectus, 10, 5-22.

Kessling, N. D. (2008). Why the Target “nexus test” leaves disabled Americans disconnected: A better approach to determine whether private commercial websites are “places of accommodation.” Houston Law Review, 45, 992-1029.

Law, C. M., Jaeger, P. T., & McKay, E. (2010). The need for developer-centered universal access design resources. Universal Access in the Information Society, 9, 327-335.

Lazar, J. (2006). Web usability: A user-centered design approach. Boston: Addison-Wesley.

Lazar, J. (2007). Introduction to universal usability. In Universal usability: Designing computer interfaces for diverse user populations (pp. 1-12). Chichester, UK: John Wiley & Sons.

Lazar, J., & Greenidge, K. (2006). One year older, but not necessarily wiser: An evaluation of homepage accessibility problems over time. Universal Access in the Information Society, 4(4), 285-291.

Lazar, J., & Jaeger, P. T. (2011). Promoting and enforcing web site accessibility. Issues in Science and Technology, 17(2), 68-82.

Lazar, J., Jaeger, P. T., Adams, A., Angelozzi, A., Manohar, J., Marciniak, J., Murphy, J., Norasteh, P., Olsen, C., Poneres, E., Scott, T., Vaidya, N., & Walsh, J. (2010). Up in the air: Are airlines following the new DOT rules on equal pricing for people with disabilities when websites are inaccessible? Government Information Quarterly, 27, 329-336.

Lazar, J., Jaeger, P. T., & Bertot, J. C. (2011). Persons with disabilities and physical and virtual public library settings. In J. C. Bertot, P. T. Jaeger, & C. R. McClure (Eds.), Public libraries and the Internet: Roles, perspectives, and implications (pp. 177-189). Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited.

Lazar, J., & Wentz, B. (2011). Separate but unequal: Web interfaces for people with disabilities. User Experience, 10(3).

Lazar, J., Jaeger, P. T., Olalere, A., Algarne, M., Augustine, Z., Brown, C., D’Erasmo, F., Dotson, B., Endiape, G., Govender, L., Hagos, N., Hunt, G., Lawrence, W., Plummer, R., Richardson, A., Saval, J., Schickling, C., Schley, C., Szoka, D., Torrie, R., and Walton, M. (2012). Still up in the air: Government regulation of airline websites and continuing price inequality for persons with disabilities online. dg.o ’12: Proceedings of the 13th Annual International Digital Government Research Conference.

Lee, B. A. (2003). A decade of the Americans with Disabilities Act: Judicial outcomes and unresolved problems. Industrial Relations, 42, 11-30.

Loiacono, E. T. (2004). Cyberaccess: Web accessibility and corporate America. Communications of the ACM, 47(12), 82-87.

Loiacono, E. T., & McCoy, S. (2004). Website accessibility: An online sector analysis. Information Technology & People, 17, 87-101.

Loiacono, E. T., & McCoy, S. (2006). Website accessibility: A cross-sector comparison. Universal Access in the Information Society, 4, 393-399.

Loiacono, E. T., Romano, N. C., Jr., & McCoy, S. (2009). The state of corporate website accessibility. Communications of the ACM, 52(8), 128-132.

Margetts, H. Z. (2009). The Internet and public policy. Policy & Internet, 1(1), article 1.

Mart, S. N. (2003). The right to receive information. Law Library Journal, 95, 175–189.

Mates, B. T. (2010, 14 September). Twenty years of assistive technologies. American Libraries. Retrieved from:

Metts, R. L. (2000). Disability issues, trends, and recommendations for the World Bank. Washington DC: World Bank.

McCreadie, M., & Rice, R. E. (1999). Trends in analyzing access to information, part I: Cross-disciplinary conceptions of access. Information Processing and Management, 35, 45-76.

McIver, W. J., Birdsall, W. F., & Rasmussen, M. (2003). The Internet and the right to communicate. First Monday, 8(2). Retrieved from:

Moser, I. (2006). Disability and the promises of technology: Technology, subjectivity, and embodiment within an order of the normal. Information Communication & Society, 9, 373-395.

National Council on Disability. (2009). National disability policy: A progress report. Washington DC: Author. Retrieved from:

National Federation of the Blind v. Target. 452 F. Supp. 2d 946 (2006).

Ogden, J. S., & Menter, L. (2009). Inaccessible school webpages: Are remedies available? Journal of Law and Education, 38, 393-408.

Olalere, A. M., & Lazar, J. (2011). Accessibility of U.S. federal government Web sites: Section 508 compliance and site accessibility statements. Government Information Quarterly, 28, 303-309

Parry, M. (2010). Colleges lock out blind students online. Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved from:

Portner, J. (2010, June 22). Smartphones flunk for blind users. Blind users see digital divide in new generation phones. Bay Citizen (CA). Retrieved from:

Qualters, S. (2009). Blind law student sues Law School Admissions Council over accessibility. National Law Journal. Retrieved from:

Ritchie, H., & Blanck, P. (2003). The promise of the Internet for disability: A study of on-line services and web site accessibility at centers for independent living. Behavioral Sciences and the Law, 21, 5-26.

Rubaii-Barrett, N., and Wise, L. (2008). Disability access and e-government: An empirical analysis of state practices. Journal of Disability Policy Studies, 19, 52-64.

Sadon, R. (2010, August 23). E-textbooks starting to turn a page. MSNCB. Retrieved from:

Scotch, R. K. (2001) From goodwill to civil rights: Transforming federal disability policy. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.

Settlement agreement between the United States, the National Federation of the Blind, the American Council of the Blind, and Arizona State University. (2010). Retrieved from: http://www.ada.dov/arizona_state_university.htm

Seymour, W., & Lupton, D. (2004). Holding the line online: Exploring wired relationships for people with disabilities. Disability and Society, 19, 291-305.

Shuler, J. A., Jaeger, P. T., & Bertot, J. C. (2010). Implications of harmonizing e-government principles and the Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP). Government Information Quarterly, 27, 9-16.

Simpson, J. (2009). Inclusive information and communication technologies for people with disabilities. Disability Studies Quarterly, 29, 1-13. Retrieved from:
Stanley v. Georgia. (1969). 394 U.S. 557.

Stephanandis, C., & Emailiani, P. L. (1999). Connecting to the information society: A European perspective. Technology and Disability, 10, 21-44.

Stienstra, D. (2006). The critical space between: Access, inclusion, and standards in information technology. Information Communication & Society, 9, 335-354.

Stienstra, D., Watzke, J., & Birch, G. E. (2007). A three-way dance: The global public good and accessibility in information technologies. Information Society, 23, 149-158.

Stodden, R. A. (2005). The status of persons with disabilities in postsecondary education. TASH Connections, 31(11/12), 4-7.

Sullivan, T., & Matson, R. (2000). Barriers to use: Usability and content accessibility on the Web’s most popular sites. In J. Thomas & J. Scholtz (Eds.), Proceedings of the Conference on Universal Usability (pp. 139-144). New York: ACM.

Svenonious, E. (2000). The intellectual foundation of information organization. Cambridge, MA: Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press.

Switzer, J. V. (2003). Disabled rights: American disability policy and the fight for equality. Washington DC: Georgetown University Press.

Theofanos, M., & Redish, J. (2003). Bridging the gap: Between accessibility and usability. Interactions, 10(6), 36-51.

Tusler, A. (2005). How to make technology work: A study of best practices in United States electronic and information technology companies. Disability Studies Quarterly, 25(2).

United States Census Bureau. (2008). Americans with disabilities 2005: Household economic studies. Washington DC: Author.

United States Department of Education. (2010). Digest of education statistics, 2009. Washington DC: Author.

United States Department of Education and United States Department of Justice. (2010). Electronic book reader dear colleague letter: Questions and answers about the law, the technology, and the population affected. Retrieved from:

United States Department of Justice. (2010b). Nondiscrimination on the basis of disability: Accessibility of Web information and services of state and local government entities and public accommodations. Federal Register, 75(142), 43463.

United States Department of Justice. (2010a). Fact sheet: Advance notice of proposed rulemaking on accessibility of web information and services provided by entities covered by the ADA. Washington DC: Author.

Vanderheiden, G. C. (2003). Opening comments. Presented at the 2003 Voice over Internet Protocol Services Forum (Madison, WI). Retrieved from:

Wagner, M., Newman, L., Cameto, R., Garza, N., & Levine, P. (2005). After high school: A first look at postschool experiences of youth with disabilities: A report from the National Longitudinal Transition Study-2 (NLTS2). Menlo Park, CA: SRI International.

Wentz, B., & Lazar, J. L. (2011). Are separate interfaces inherently unequal? An evaluation with blind users of the usability of two interfaces for a social networking platform. Presented at iConference 2011, Seattle, WA, United States.

Wentz, B., Jaeger, P. T., & Lazar, J. L. (2011). Retrofitting accessibility: The legal inequality of after-the-fact online access for persons with disabilities in the United States. First Monday, 11(7). Retrieved from:

Yu, D. X., & Parmanto, R. (2011). U.S. state government websites demonstrate better in terms of accessibility compared to federal government and commercial websites. Government Information Quarterly, 28, 484-490.