January 5, 2001
The Honorable Don Nickles
United States Senator
3310 Mid-Continent Tower
409 South Boston
Tulsa, Oklahoma 74103-4007
Dear Senator Nickles:
This letter is in response to your inquiry on behalf of your constituent, xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx, Oklahoma, who designs web sites. Xxxxxxxxxxx questions whether or not section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended (section 508) applies to websites made available to the general public by private industry or by state and local governments. Please excuse our delay in responding.
According to his letter, xxxxxxxxxxx found contradictory information when he tried to conduct online research regarding "the Americans with Disabilities Act Title III Section 508." xxxxxxxxxxxx confusion appears to stem from a misunderstanding of the differences between the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) and a separate law - the previously mentioned section 508. As stated in the Department of Justice's technical assistance materials quoted by xxxxxxxxxxx, section 508 does not apply directly to any individuals or entities other than the federal government. The ADA, however - not section 508 - controls the degree to which the websites of state and local governments, and those of private entities falling within the definition of "public accommodation," must be made accessible to individuals with disabilities.
The applicability of the ADA to the online activities of covered entities is explained in the enclosed brief, which was filed with the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in the case of Hooks v. Okbridge. The brief explains that commercial businesses that otherwise qualify as "public accommodations" - whether they provide services solely over the Internet or in combination with a "bricks and mortar" establishment - are subject to the ADA's prohibition against discrimination on the basis of disability.
xxxxxxxxxxx' allegation that the Department reserves its technical assistance for its own employees rather than for the tax-paying public is mistaken. xxxxxxxxxxx directed his question to an e-mail address (firstname.lastname@example.org), which is indeed reserved for use by federal employees who are responsible for their agencies' compliance with section 508. The Department has limited the scope of this e-mail address because section 508 only applies to federal agencies. All persons who send messages to this address receive the same automated reply that xxxxxxxxxxx received. (1) This automated response was carefully designed to give members of the public, who are seeking information about section 508 or the ADA, the toll-free telephone numbers of the Department's ADA Information Line, where specially trained staff members are prepared to answer their questions. Only the targeted e-mail address (email@example.com) is reserved for federal employees.
I hope this information will assist you in responding to your constituent and that our explanation clarifies the pertinent differences between section 508 and the ADA. Please do not hesitate to contact the Department if we can be of assistance in other matters.
Bill Lann Lee
Assistant Attorney General
Civil Rights Division
1. The text of the automated e-mail response is as follows:
This e-mail address (firstname.lastname@example.org) is reserved for federal employees who are working with their agencies' compliance with section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act.
If you are a federal employee corresponding on behalf of an agency, we will respond to your message as soon as possible.
If you are not a federal employee, you will not receive a response to your inquiry, nor will you receive any other acknowledgment of your correspondence. We regret this circumstance, but our limited resources prevent us from responding to inquiries unrelated to the implementation of section 508 by public agencies.
Anyone with general questions about the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) may call the Department of Justice's toll free ADA Information Line, 1-800-514-0301 (voice) or 1-800-514-0383 (TTY). Thank you.>