Integrating the Internet
49 Pages Posted: 6 Apr 2014 Last revised: 26 Sep 2017
Date Written: April 4, 2014
This Article argues that the paradigmatic right of people with disabilities “to live in the world” naturally encompasses the right “to live in the Internet.” It further argues that the Internet is rightly understood as a place of public accommodation under antidiscrimination law. Because public accommodations are indispensable to integration, civil rights advocates have long argued that marginalized groups must have equal access to the physical institutions that enable one to learn, socialize, transact business, find jobs, and attend school. The Web now provides all of these opportunities and more, but people with disabilities are unable to traverse vast stretches of its interface. This virtual embargo is indefensible, especially when one recalls that the entire Web was constructed over the last twenty-five years and is further constructed every day. Exclusion from the Internet will cast an even wider shadow as an aging U.S. population with visual, hearing, motor, and cognitive impairments increasingly faces barriers to access. Unless immediate attention is given, the virtual exclusion of people with disabilities — and others, such as elders and non-native English speakers — will quickly overshadow the ADA’s previous achievements in the physical sphere.
Accordingly, this Article develops the claim that the Internet is a place of public accommodation, which must be integrated, by showing that the same concerns that motivated access for African Americans under the Civil Rights Act of 1964 now compel Web accessibility for people with disabilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act. The issue is, however, even more pressing because the Internet is broad enough to encompass all of the traditional categories of public accommodations — as well as social arenas like education and work. In this way, access to the Internet provides an unprecedented opportunity to overcome attitudinal barriers, because almost all people now interact frequently through the Web. Moreover, because disabilities are not apparent online, the Internet facilitates the social engagement of people who might not otherwise interact. Finally, Internet accessibility provokes reconsid- eration of the constitutional rights of individuals with disabilities. Integrating the Internet will advance — instead of infringe upon — their rights to democratic self-governance, personal autonomy, and self-expression.
Keywords: disability, Internet, integration, Web, public accommodations, Title VII, discrimination, ADA, First Amendment, self-governnance, self-expression
JEL Classification: J70, J71, J78, J79, O14, O15, O30, O31, O33, O38
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation