DisABILITY Computing and the Law: What You Should Know
Accessibility has many faces facets and aspects. And access for a
person with a major life impairment (disability) is a matter of legal
definition and resolve. The miracle of access to the printed word has been
revolutionized for disabled people through the use of the computer. Miracles
never though possible are occurring daily in elementary and secondary
schools, as well as in colleges and businesses. To watch a quadraplegic input
computer data by use of an eyeblink switch inspires and brings an enigmatic
smile to us. To see a blind person read braille just output from a computer
also poises our mind to wonderment. To see a deaf person use a telephone with
a TDD (Telecommunications Device forthe Deaf) brings dignity of
self-determination to a population we would never have thought could
communicate so freely before. All this would have been science fiction a few
short years ago. Yet today the wonders of technology are enabling many to
enabling positions of independence.
However, as in all tangible things, law and regulation has indeed
found its nitch in this amazing world of computer miracles. And with the rule
of law comes the perameters of access, affordability and use. Many laws and
responibilities have come forth from this remarkable technological
development called the adaptive computer. I wish to guide you around the key
points of this human interface to technology and disabled.
LAWS REGULATIONS COURT DECISIONS AND DISABILITY TECH
Most people think of laws as scarey things that pin striped suited
lawyers argue about in ornate halls of justice. However through law comes
the greatest possibilities for technology access for disabled persons. Here
are a few key laws:
Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990: 42 U.S.C. Sections 12101 et seq.
This is called the most significant piece of legislation concerning
disabled persons ever in the history of the world. This 102 page law
contains elements concerning employment, housing, public accomodation, and
telecommunications. Regulations and the public hearing processes will
continue to 1992. In there are many issues concerning disabled and what is
called "reasonable accomodation". That phrase is infused in many laws
concerning disabled persons. Among the technologies of modern time are
adaptive computer terminals for disability access. This would cover the
broadest spectrum. Employers may have to place disability work stations in
businesses where disabled will work. Or TDDs may be required for deaf to
have access to the phone lines for simplistic communication. Public
accomodation will include the spectrum of libraries having talking terminals
for the print disabled for access to their computerized technology. In that
also will be public buildings of all kinds such as resturants, hotels, train
plane and rail stations, and an array of public service and commercial
establishments. In all places a computer is placed, access for the disabled
may indeed become an actionable issue if there is no accomodation under this
law. Thus an airline with a computer terminal for information for their
passengers may indeed be required to provide voice synthesis access for blind
persons. Or a hotel may be required to have a TDD for a hearing impaired
person to use. And the net effect may well be lower cost as more people are
mandated to use this law in the future. However, since most of these laws
will not be in regulatory form until 1992, they are not clearly established
Technology Act for the Disabled; Public law 100-407 29 USC 2201, 2202 et seq.
This law establishes sites of technology access for disabled persons.
The theory is that the technology is quite expensive at present. Yet if more
people (the rationale states) with disability had access to "try out" and
"train" in these devices, more disabled persons would take advantage of the
technology. In this plan many centers are funded nationwide. Every state has
established a "tech act" co-ordinator. In New York State, as an example, the
New York State Office of Advocate for the Disabled has been so designated as
the liason. In New York State they are at 518 474 5567 and the co-ordinator
is Deborah Buck. However EVERY state has one designated agency and person to
deal with this funding and plan. Seek out your own state's plan and director
for more concrete information on this.
International Meeting of Experts on Human Resources in the Field of
Disability: Tallin Estonia SSR, 14-22 1989
A spectactular meeting was held on International implications of
disability and technology use on that date by the United Nations Disabled
Persons Unit. A rich pamphlet was produced quantifying technology use and law
on the international plane in a document. The name of this paragraph is the
name of the document. You may get a copy of it by writing to the Disabled
Persons Unit; United Nations Centre for Social Development and Humanitarian
Affairs; PO Box 500 A-1400; Vienna Austria. In this unique world document,
you will find issues concerning disabled children and telecommunications
education, the use of disability technology in the workplace, how to train
teachers to develop such resources, and an array of codified instructions to
governments on how to accomplish this task. In international law, the rules
and guidelines can only look like "recommendations" as there are scarce
resources to force or police a nation to compliance. Hence upon reading
these do not appear as laws to the otherwise uninitiated. Indeed they are
and this document presents a wealth of ideas and stipulations.
Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Public Law 93-112 as amended 29 U.S.C. section
702 et seq.
The famous "504 law" appears in this section of law. 504 is "non
discrimination on the basis of disability in federally assisted programs".
Before the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, this 1973 law as amended
was the civil rights provision for disabled persons. It only allowed what
was called "reasonable accomodation" in those programs for disabled persons
that received Federal money. Until present time a disabled person who needed
an adapted computer to WORK could not use this law. However the
raminifations were clear oin 504 issues to colleges and schools of education
so funded by the government.
In this act also is the definition of a disabled person. For the
intents of clarifying "who is a disabled person" I include this definition:
In the Federal Register, Volume 45 number 92 Friday May 9, 1980, page
30937, the Department of Education made regulations about disabled persons in
education. Originally this was the a rule making for the education department
alone. However, it has become a universal referance as to who or what a
disabled person is for the federal governments' purposes. I will interject
the verbatim listing of the definition.
Section 104.3 part j states "Handicapped person." (1) "Handicapped
persons" means any person who (i) has a physical or mental impairment which
substantially limits one or more major life activities.(ii) has a record of
such an impairment.(iii) is regarded as having such an impairment.
(2) As used in paragraph (j)(1) of this section, the phrase:
(i) "Physical or mental impairment" means (A) any physiological disorder
or condition, cosmetic disfigurement, or anatomical loss affecting one or
more of the following body systems: neurological; musculoskeletal; special
sense organs; respiratory, including speech organs; cardiovasular;
reproductive; digestive; genito-urinary; hematic and lymphatic; skin and
endocrine; or (B) any mental or psychological disorder such as mental
retardation, organic brain syndrome, emotional or mental illness, and
specific learning disabilities.
(ii) Major life activities means functions such as caring for oneself,
performing manual tasks, walking, seeing, hearing, breathing, learning and
In this context, we have a medical model definition of what handicap
is. In effect, those persons with those impairments are a 'protected class',
who require certain adaptation to be equal in society.
As you see, many common ordinary people you know are "handicapped"
under this definition. 504 gave the shape quantity and format to the issues.
Section 508: Electronic Data Processing for Disabled Federal Employees of
Public Law 99-506 as amended
This was the start of another array of laws concerning disabled
persons and technology. Here is the full text of the law:
FULL TEXT OF SECTION 508 OF PUBLIC LAW 99:506
Electronic Equipment Accessibility
Section 508. (a) (1) The Secratary, through the director of the National
Institute on Disability and Rehabiliation Research an the Administrator of
General Services, and in consultation with the electronics industry, shall
develop and establish guidelines for electronic equipment accessibility
designed to insure that individuals with handicaps may use electronic office
equipment with or without special peripherals.
(2) The guidelines established pursuant to paragraph (1) shall be applicable
with respect to electronic equipment, whether purchased or leased.
(3) The initial guidelines shall be established not later than October 1,
1987 and shall be periodically revised by the director of the National
Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research and the Administrator of
General Services in consultation with the electronics industry and the
Interagency Committee for Computer Support of Handicapped employees as
technologies advance or change.
(b) Beginning after September 30, 1988, the Administrator of General
Services shall adopt guidelines for electronic equipment accessibility under
subsection (a) for Federal procurement of electronic equipment. Each agency
shall comply with the guidelines adopted under this subsection.
(c) For the purposes of this section, the term, "special peripherals"
means the specific needs aid that provides access to electronic equipment
that is otherwise inaccessible to an individual with handicaps.
In this simple law these 1591 characters started the revolution in
disability technology policy. To dovetail this, the Public Law 99-506 and is
sections is the amended form of the Rehab Act of 1973. In this we see the
progression of policy as the rights of disabled procede.
A rather remarkable policy document called the "COCA Bullitens" has
been written concerning this. The regulations called the FIRMR bullitens
quantify the rules of this law. You may get copies of this. Here is a quoted
citation from the manual:
Managing End User Computing for Users with Disabilities has been prepared
by the Clearinghouse on Computer Accommodation (COCA) of the Information
Resources Management Service (IRMS), General Services Administration (GSA).
This handbook presents guidance to Federal managers and other personnel who
are unfamiliar with the application of computer and related information
technology to accommodate users with disabilities and provide for their
effective access to information resources. Issues reviewed represent
"lessons learned" by agencies and GSA's Clearinghouse On Computer
The unbound format of this handbook accommodates the need for periodic
updating due to the rapid introduction of new accommodation-related products
and services and the evolving nature of the guidance presented. Updates will
be available on-line and hard-copy and can be obtained by completing the
COCA staff invite comments and contributions to the guide. In addition, COCA
can be contacted to arrange demonstrations of accommodation solutions at
their technical resource center. COCA is also available to assist managers
with technical advice and assistance during acquisition planning.
The COCA staff may be reached on 202-523-1906 voice/TDD (FTS 523-1906) or via
mail at GSA, Susan A. Brummel, Director, Clearinghouse on Computer
Accommodation, Room 2022, KGDO, 18th & F Streets, N.W., Washington, DC 20405.
COCA offers a training class for managers entitled "Managing Computer
Accommodation for Users with Disabilities". In addition, COCA also offers
informal introductory consultation/training at its technical resource center
at the GSA building, 18th and F Sts. N.W., Washington, D.C. 20405.
Consultations can be scheduled by calling (FTS or 202) 523-1906.
Appropriate documentation is an important part of training. Whenever
possible, documentation should be made available to the user in the most
useful manner, whether this be braille, audio tape, large print, captioned
tapes or electronic media. For example, a printed manual on a database
package is virtually useless to a blind user. If documentation in a special
form is required, management should take steps to secure such documentation
after determining the accommodation requirements. ((end of quote from COCA
We see from this that technology assistance is well defined with the
law and regulations. No base has been left uncovered. Thus the ever expanded
laws and rules of disability and technology surfaces and remains intact. We
see the massive building blocks of law and service which are the benchmarks
and foundations of access technology.
Education of All Handicapped Children Act Public Law 94-142 as amended. 20
USC Sec 1400 et seq.
This law is soon to be named the "Individuals with Disabilities
Education Act" (IDEAS) by Congress on its re-enactment. Children with
disabilities also are afforded "reasonable accomodation" in their education.
However another phrase called "related services" has appeared in the laws for
children with disabilities. In 20 USCA Section 1401 (18) "approprriate
education" for a disabled child is defined as providing "special education
and related services". A rather significant court ruling came from a child
named "Tatro" who needed a "related service" of a catheterization to attend a
mainstreamed school. In the case before the Supreme Court of the United
States, "Tatro v. State of Texas, 703 F.2d 823 (5 Cir. 1983" The bottom line
was the Supreme Court decided an array of services are indeed "related" IF IT
ENABLES THE CHILD TO CONTINUE IN SCHOOL IN THE LEAST RESTRICTIVE MOST
APPRORPRIATE ENVIRONMENT. Thus catheterization was indeed given in her "free
and approprriate public education". From this interface and decision an array
of "related services" are contracted for including use of and instruction of
adaptive technology. In New York City Board of Education as an example, Dr
Stephen Hittman runs the Office of Contracted and Related Services. He runs a
program by which disabled children and their schools can "contract" for
"related services" for their needs. This came to be because of the Tatro
decision. Dr Hitmman's Office at the New York City Board of Education is at
111 Livingston Street, Brooklyn NY Room 444. (718 935 3581) Perhaps your own
area includes such an office.
Disabled children have also been afforded such devices as
"augmentative speech" devices and "hearing aid loops" in what is called their
"individual education program". That becomes a "legal and binding contract"
for services for each child. In New York State, an array of technology
assistance centers called SETRCs (Special Education Training and Resource
Centers) have been established. Many of the expensive technological devices
used by disabled children have been recycled in these centers. One such SETRC
is the Batavia School for the Blind of Richmond Avenue, Batavia NY, 14020.
(716 343-5384) Here they recycle such things as computers voice synthesizers
and braillers and an array of disability technology relating to blindness and
vision impairment for children. A similar SETRC is at the Rome School for the
Deaf. (315) 337 8400 (401 Turin St. Rome NY)
State Run Schools for Handicapped Children Public Law 89-313
Previous to Public Law 94 142, this law funded schools for disabled
children. They were to be run by the State Education Department and were
mostly sequestured schools. Many schools such as the above Batavia School for
the Blind and Rome School for the Deaf were established and were "disability
specific" under this law. However, since mainstreaming was mandated and
funded by Public Law 94 142 as amended, many of these schools have taken on a
new face and purpose. Many now provide centralized points of training and
technology for that specific disability. Look in your area for similar
schools. Many of them may even contract to provide technology training for
the specific disability and child you are seeking to assist.
You may find resources you are amazed at. For deaf
children and adults, the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation
Services of the Federal government funds a project called "Captioning of
Films for the Deaf". There are two places specifically funded to produce
captioned educational films for deaf persons. Here are their addresses:
National Captioning Institute Inc.
5203 Leesburg Pike
Falls Church, VA 22041
Provides closed captioning service for television networks, program
producers, cablecasters, producers of home entertainment video cassettes,
advertisers and other organizations in the federal and private sectors.
Also the second place is:
Modern Talking Picture Service is a captioned film/video program made
available by the U.S. Department of Education. It makes available feature
films and a range of educational films and videos. Users of theatrical
films/videos should have a general audience setting that contains at least
six deaf or hard of hearing persons. Users of educational titles should have
a class or educational setting that contains at least one deaf or hearing
impaired person. There are 3,561 educational and theatrical titles in this
free-loan captioned program. Contact Modern Talking Picture Service, 5000
Park Street N, St. Petersburg, FL 33709, (800)237-6213.*
((* My thanks to Mr Chuck Lynd of LINC Resources Inc at 1 800 772 7372 for
this captioning information))
The US Department of Education, Office of Special Education and
Rehabilitative Services funds many services dealing with technology and the
needs of the disabled. The specialized money to produce these captioned
films is defined in the Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance which you can
find at any US Government bookstore. Many of these films are now captioned by
use of specialized computer technology. An impressive array of these devices
can be found at the Rochester Technical Institute for the Deaf in Rochester
New York. Much software is available at present to help your common personal
computer assist with captioning of any film. Hence again disability and
computers take on a facinating interface.
SOME COURT CASES OF NOTE
Several court cases also quantify the fact that persons with
disabilities also have access to technology as a civil right. Here are some
cases of particular note.
Children are particually of interest to the US Supreme Court and an
array of Federal courts. Many cases justify the right of a disabled child to
education with RELATED SERVICES in the least restrictive environment. These
are most noteworthy:
Board of Education V Rowley , 458 US at n.4; (on related services of an FM
loop for a hearing impaired child to mainstream)
AW v. Northwest R-1 School District, 813 F.2d 158 162-163 (8th Circuit), cert
denied, 56 USLW. 3244 (1987)
Rockner v Walter, 700 F.2d 1058, 1063 (6TH Cir) cert denied, 464 US 864
Springdale School District #50 vs Grace, 693 F2d. 41, 43 (8th Cir.) vert
denied, 461 US 927 (1983)
Most noteworthy is Rowley. In the text of the Supreme Court decision, the
(the educational service must) " to the maximum extent appropriate,
handicapped children... are to be educated with children who are not
handicapped, and that removal of handicapped children from regular
educational environment [should occur] only when the nature of the severity
of the handicap is such that education in a regular class WITH THE USE OF
SUPPLEMENTARY AIDS AND SERVICES cannot be achieved satisfactorily."
In this, the Rowley decision, we find mainstreaming WITH RELATED AIDS AND
SERVICES (such as the FM loop for the child) is indeed in keeping with Public
Law 94-142's intent. So children can and do receive an array of technology
for their disabilities in the course of their education. The above mentioned
accomodation for the captioning of films for the deaf is a clear example of
this. It is clear that if a child in a regular class has any use of
technology in the educational persuits of the class, the disabled child
should have adaptions for their disability as well so they can participate
equally. Hence we see Rowley firmy establishes technology access for disabled
In regards to bilingual education and technology for disabled persons, we
find two noteworthy class action suits. One is the Jose P case. The cite is
Jose P vs Aumbach and the NYS Board of Education and NYC Board of Education.
557 Fed Supp. 1230 et seq. In this a Spanish speaking disabled child sought
related services for his disability in the school system. This suit is
ongoing to this day. In this an array of special accomodations have been
enforced and mandated through what is called a "writ of mandamus". Spanish
speaking disabled children as an example are learning Spanish word processing
if they are orthopedically impaired by using Dr Steven Hittman's Office of
Contracted and Related Services to fullfil the need. Several vendors of
training and Spanish speaking technology have adapted lessons for these
children and are "contracted with" for these educational services.
Also the Lora consent decree concerning bi-lingual, bi-cultural special
education services. This is found in 456 Fed Supp 1211 et seq. Under this
decision and consent decree a blind from birth child received Hebrew computer
braille training at Brooklyn College under my tutalage. This was quantified
in her IEP and placed in force by NYS Family Court as her IEP for related
services. The stipulation decreed that this was a "free appropriate education
with related services based on the Lora decreee and the Jose P case decrees."
Hence this very specialized educational service is provided by court ruling.
In higher education, we come across the case United States v University of
Alabama CA No 86-C1779-S, N.D. 12/30/88, slip op. at 7, 26-27. This case
dealt with the University holding a scrutiny on the disabled that they be
made eligible for financial aid to be eligible for auxillary aids. The
decision stated that in 34 CFR section 1044.44(d) the recipients of Federal
funding are required to ensure that students with disabilities are provided
auxillary aids, including taped texts, interperters for students with hearing
impairment, readers for students with visual impairment classroom equipment
adapted for use by students with manual impairments and other similar
services and actions. This should be only if the assistive device would not
fundamentally alter or substantially modify the character of the program.
Hence if all the class must learn statistics on a computer as an example, and
a student requires a voice synthesis device to perceive the screen
independently, the college is obligated to provide the device free of charge
to the student. It is actionable offense under US Civil Rights law otherwise.
In the arena of employment, the issues of "reasonable accomodation" for the
disability also occurs. In recognition of the fact that certain
"accomodations" are needed for a person with a disability to be employed.
Noteworthy is Gardner V Morris 752 F2nd 1271 (8th Cir. 1985) which said a
"reasonable accomodation" should not be oppressive to the employer, however
referred to 28 CFR Sections 41.53, 42.513(c) for a clearer definition of the
meaning of "oppressive". The CFR reference is in relation to disabled FEDERAL
employees and what is considered a reasonable accomodation. However, the
Americans with Disabilities Act now defines the accomodations of this section
of Federal law as integral to the enforcement of the employment section in
ADA. It is NOT considered "opressive" for the telephone company as an example
to provide a versabraille (TM) on the computer teminal to a blind telephone
information operator who requires one for the functioning of the job. The
numbers of the employees in the company, the nature and cost of the
particular accomodation, and the nature and size of the employers business.
Based on these specific decisions of the court, we have the guideline for
MISCELLENEOUS PROVISIONS OF LAW RELATING TO TECHNOLOGY AND THE DISABLED:
In 1984, I was quite instrumental in the formulation of the computer
funding formula for disabled children in New York State. In Title 8 NYCRR
Section 175.25 we find line 8 which states all disabled children in NYS
should have $17.25 per child for computer hardware and $5.25 for software per
semester provided for their needs. This is the exact formula as non disabled
children in the state. I would deem this an important provision for
disability computer policy persons to consider in their lobbying of their
legislators. The exact same formula for non-disabled children for access to
computer technology should be the same. This law is a model.
The National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped
also provides free tape recorded and brailled text books to qualified
persons. However, most people are not aware that in 1969, the physically
handicapped who could not turn pages were also allowed in the program.
However, the free tape player, record player and earphones are also available
free to schools and institutions upon proper certification. The address for
further query on this is "National Library Service for the Blind and
Physically Handicapped; Library of Congress; Washington DC 20542. If your
institution, school or place of public accomodation has print disabled
persons utilizing your facility you MAY be eligible to obtain not only this
technology but also tape recorded materials for the blind free of charge.
In pace with the Technology Act for the Disabled, the Office of
Special Education and Rehabilitation Services has given Recording for the
Blind a grant to produce computer diskette books for the blind and print
disabled. Yoy may make query of this publicly funded service by writing to
Recording for the Blind; 20 Roszel Road, Princeton NJ. This would make the
project a federally funded project subject to the stipulations of section 504
of Public Law 93-112.
The New York State Science and Technology Foundation is funded by the
New York State Office of Economic Development. They provide grants to
commerial developpers of disability technology on an application basis.
Many disabled persons are eligible to receive technology free by
evaluation from their local Office of Vocational Rehabilitation. Call your
local Vocational Rehabilitation Center for rules and stipulations by which
you or a disabled person you know can be funded for vocational rehabilitation
services which COULD include the training of technology and the agency
purchasing same. There is an array of different procedures for this service.
Often such services are provided as a stipulation of Title 5 of Public Law
93-112, aid to states to provide services for ADULT disabled persons.
In the law also there is a provision of providing various services
INCLUDING TECHNOLOGY to elderly blind person. Here is the law:
TITLE VII--COMPREHENSIVE SERVICES FOR INDEPENDENT LIVING
PART C--Independent Living Services for Older Blind Individuals.
SEC. 721. SERVICE PROGRAM ESTABLISHED
(a) The Commissioner may make grants to any designated State unit to provide
independent living services to older blind individuals. Such services shall
be designed to assist an older blind individual to adjust to blindness by
becoming more able to care for individual needs. Such services may include--
(1) services to help correct blindness such as
(A) outreach services,
(B) visual screening,
(C) surgical or therapeutic treatment to prevent,
correct, or modify disabling eye conditions, and
(D) hospitalization related to such services;
(2) the provision of eyeglasses and OTHER VISUAL AIDS;
(3) the provision of services and equipment to assist
an older blind individual to become more mobile and more
(4) mobility training, Braille instruction, and other
SERVICES AND EQUIPMENT to help an older blind individual
adjust to blindness;
(5) guide services, reader services, and transportation; and
(6) any other appropriate services designed to assist a
blind person in coping with daily living activities,
including supportive services or rehabilitation teaching
(b) No grant may be made under this section unless an application therefor,
containing such information as the Commissioner may require, has been
submitted to and approved by the Commissioner. The Commissioner may not
approve any application for a grant unless the application contains
assurances that the designated State unit will seek to incorporate any new
methods and approaches relating to the services described in subsection (a)
into its State plan for independent living services under section 705 of this
(c) Funds received under this section by any designated State unit may be
used to make grants to public or private nonprofit agencies or organizations
(1) conduct activities which will improve or expand
services for older blind individuals and help improve
public understanding of the problems of such individuals;
(2) provide independent living services to older blind
individuals in accordance with the provisions of
(d) For purposes of this section, the term "older blind individual" means an
individual aged fifty-five or older whose severe visual impairment makes
gainful employment extremely difficult to attain but for whom independent
living goals are feasible.
From this we can discern that older blind persons may apply for
rehabilitation services and RELATED DEVICES AND SERVICES (including computer
technology) for their disabilty as well.
Laws have enabled the use of technology by disabled persons in many
ways. As the enablements become greater and as technology progresses, we may
see yet more laws and regulations. In brief, adaptive technology has enabled
disabled persons for many years. It continues to do so in an array of ways.
Law both quantifies and also stipulates the use of technology by disabled
persons. The singular proof and affirmation this will continue is the
progression of past laws carried to present time. It is obvious that an array
of thoughtful laws and judicial decisions have made this tech available in
great quantity. The proliferation of these highly enabling machines will
It is my hopes this has provided a valuable and useful guide. Please
refer any questions to me at Project Easi if you should have any questions.
Tzipporah Benavraham, PhD