Internet Architecture and Disability
57 Pages Posted: 12 Mar 2019 Last revised: 8 May 2020
Date Written: February 17, 2019
The Internet is essential for education, employment, information, and cultural and democratic participation. For tens of millions of people with disabilities in the United States, barriers to accessing the Internet, including the visual presentation of information to people who are blind or visually impaired, the aural presentation of information to people who are deaf or hard of hearing, and the persistence of Internet technology, interfaces, and content without regard to prohibitive cognitive load for people with cognitive and intellectual disabilities collectively pose one of the most significant civil rights issues of the information age. Yet disability law lacks a comprehensive theoretical approach for fully facilitating Internet accessibility. The prevailing doctrinal approach to Internet accessibility seeks to treat websites as metaphorical “places” subject to Title III of the ADA, which requires places of public accommodations to be accessible to people with disabilities. While this place-centric approach to Title III has succeeded to a significant degree in making websites accessible over the last two decades, large swaths of the Internet — more broadly construed to include Internet technologies beyond websites — remain inaccessible to millions of people with a variety of disabilities.
As limitations of a place-based approach to Title III become clearer, a new framework for disability law is needed in an increasingly intermediated Internet. Leveraging the Internet law literature on perspectives, this article recognizes the place-centric approach to Title III as normatively and doctrinally “internal,” in the terminology of internet law scholars It offers a framework for supplementing this internal approach with an external approach that contemplates the layered architecture of the Internet, including its constituent content, Web and non-Web applications, access networks operated by Internet service providers, and devices and the role of disability and other bodies of law, particularly including telecommunications law and attendant policy issues, such as net neutrality, in making them accessible.
Keywords: Disability Law, Internet Law, Telecommunications Law, Consumer Protection, Anti-Discrimination Law, Copyright Law, First Amendment, Intermediary and Platform Law, Internet of Things, Robotics Law, Artificial Intelligence
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation