February 6, 2001
Dr. Henry Betts
Past Medical Director/President/CEO
Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago
345 East Superior Street
Chicago, Illinois 60611-4496
Dear Dr. Betts:
This letter is in response to your request that the Attorney General address two issues:
- the accessibility to persons with disabilities of programs conducted under the federal E-Rate Discount Program, 47 U.S.C.A. ï½§ 254(h); and
- the accessibility of information kiosks in airports.
The Universal Service Fund for Schools and Libraries (E-Rate Program) was created by section 254 of the Communications Act, 47 U.S.C. ï½§ 254. It is administered through a nonprofit entity, the Universal Service Administrative Company, Schools and Libraries Division, and funded through the Federal Communications Commission.
Recipients of federal funds are subject to section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended, 29 U.S.C. ï½§ 794a. Section 504 generally requires programs to be accessible to people with disabilities. Under section 504, schools and libraries that receive federal assistance through the E-Rate Program or other federal program should provide their computer and telecommunications services in a manner that does not discriminate against people with disabilities. For instance, a library may need to provide an appropriate auxiliary aid or service - such as screen reading software - upon request to a user who is blind, unless doing so would impose an undue hardship. It may also need to ensure that a computer station is configured so that it can be utilized easily by someone who uses a wheelchair and take other appropriate actions.
In addition, regardless of whether schools and libraries receive federal assistance, they have obligations under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Public schools and public libraries are covered by title II of the ADA, while private schools and private libraries are covered by title III of the ADA.
As you know from your work in this area, section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and titles II and III of the ADA incorporate some degree of flexibility in determining how entities may meet their nondiscrimination obligations.
If you have specific information about libraries or schools that have violated section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act or title II of the ADA, please send that information to the U.S. Department of Education. The office serving your region is:
Mr. Don Pollar
Office for Civil Rights
U.S. Department of Education
111 North Canal Street, Suite 1053
Chicago, Illinois 60606
Title III of the ADA covers private entities that may or may not receive federal financial assistance. If an entity receives federal funds, it is covered by section 504. Complaints against such an entity may be referred to the Department of Education at the above address. Complaints against private entities that do not receive federal financial assistance may be directed to the Department of Justice at the following address:
Disability Rights Section
Civil Rights Division
Department of Justice
P.O. Box 66738
Washington, D.C. 20035-6738
The various types of entities that own or operate information kiosks at airports are subject to different federal disability rights laws. Airlines are covered by the Air Carriers Access Act, 49 U.S.C.A. ï½§ 41705. Public entities, such as state and local governments, are covered by title II of the ADA, 42 U.S.C. ï½§ 12131-61. Private entities whose actions affect commerce and who fall within one or more of 12 "public accommodation" categories - including, among others, banks or insurance companies - are subject to title III of the ADA, 42 U.S.C. ï½§ï½§ 12181-88. All commercial entities - including those that are not "public accommodations" - are subject to the new construction and alteration provisions of title III. All entities receiving federal assistance are subject to section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. The legal obligations contained in these laws differ in some significant respects.
The Department of Justice offers extensive technical assistance on the ADA. The ADA Information Line is available during weekdays to provide technical assistance. It also provides a 24-hour automated service for ordering ADA materials. This free service provides answers to general and technical questions about ADA requirements and is a source for free ADA materials. You may reach the ADA Information Line by calling:
ADA information is also available on the Department of Justice's ADA Home Page:
Questions regarding an entity's obligations under section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act are generally handled by the federal agency that is providing financial assistance to the entity. The Department of Transportation is likely to be the agency to contact for many airport operations:
Ms. Mary N. Whigham Jones
Departmental Office of Civil Rights
Office of the Secretary
Department of Transportation
400 7th Street, S.W., Room 10215
Washington, D.C. 20590
The Department of Transportation is also the appropriate agency to respond to questions regarding the Air Carriers Access Act.
Finally, you suggest that the issue of whether information kiosks at airports have to be accessible to persons with disabilities is governed by section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. ï½§ 794d. Section 508 applies to federal agencies' electronic and information technology. Information kiosks at airports - unless those kiosks are owned or operated by federal agencies - are not directly subject to section 508. The Department of Education is responsible for determining whether state governments' electronic and information technology must comply with the accessibility standards for section 508, as part of their responsibilities under the Assistive Technology Act, as amended, 29 U.S.C. ï½§ï½§ 3001 et seq. Questions about whether state governments that own airports have a responsibility to ensure that their information kiosks are accessible to persons with disabilities under the Assistive Technology Act should be directed to the Department of Education.
We hope this information has been helpful to you. Please do not hesitate to contact the Department if we can be of assistance in other matters.
John L. Wodatch
Disability Rights Section