The Americans With Disabilities Act and the Web

 

Today’s Headlines from Libertarian Sites

Balancing
Family and Freedom
by Doug Bandow (CATO Institute)

Ecuador’s
Problems Not Just ‘Bum Luck’: Ecuador’s financial sector has
been bankrupted by corruption and inflation
by Stephen Johnson
(Heritage Foundation)

Time
To Act On Taiwan’s Security
by Stephen J. Yates (Heritage
Foundation)

Congress,
Not The President, Has The Better Plan To Facilitate Public
School Construction
by Ronald D. Utt (Heritage Foundation)

   

There is currently a movement
afoot to apply the Americans with Disabilities Act to the World Wide Web.
Lawyers recently sued America Online, for example, arguing that its heavy
reliance on a graphical user interface made it difficult for blind users
to access the service. According to Walter Olson, who runs Overlawyered.Com
and has published extensively on legal issues, the Justice Department
has already indicated that much of the activity on the Internet likely
falls under the ADA.

What the lawyers and activists
want might not sound that difficult or imposing to those not involved
in creating web content, but it could pose serious problems. According
to the W3 Consortium, content is considered inaccessible if it includes
“images without alternative text; lack of alternative text for imagemap
hot-spots; misleading use of structural elements on pages; uncaptioned
audio or undescribed video; lack of alternative information for users
who cannot access frames or scripts; tables that are difficult to decipher
when linearized; or sites with poor color contrast.”

Olson was kind enough to post
his testimony
to a House subcommittee
on the dangers this sort of standard poses
to the explosion of web sites that has occurred in the past few years
which outlines many of the problems. In fact if applied strictly, the
ADA would make sites like this one impossible.

I currently run 8 or 9 web
sites and pretty much do all the writing, editing, HTML-work, graphics,
etc. The amazing thing about the web is that extremely small groups of
people can quickly and efficiently publish information and commentary
and compete with larger publishers in ways that were impossible before
the Web. The main reason is the low cost. This year I will reach between
5 and 6 million readers while spending less than $2,000.

The problem with the ADA requirement
is that it suddenly increases the costs. I’ve got plans for a couple site
to add audio and video, and any requirement to produce transcripts would
simply destroy that possibility. Who has time to transcribe an hour long
production every week (or the money to hire someone to transcribe them)?
Large corporations and outfits with a lot more resources than I.

Olson points out that in order
to fulfill some of the accessibility requirements, people would have to
“unlearn” common HTML coding techniques, and they would probably be forced
to buy expensive new tools to do the coding as well. I know my sites are
filled with “tables that are difficult to decipher when linearized” as
a conscious part of the design.

Some of the requirements are
impossible to meet if you want a decent web site. For example, nobody
stops to ask why folks leave out alternative text for imagemap hot-spots
and graphics. The reason is not because web designers don’t want blind
readers to have access to that information, but that several versions
ago both Netscape and Microsoft made a boneheaded mistake and forced their
browsers to automatically display the alternative text as a “tool tip”.
Unfortunately, what this means is that if you have an image map with several
options, putting the cursor over the image brings up the alternative text
and often obscures or makes it difficult to see the other options. Using
alternative text on many images and image maps can make them practically
unusable.

Olson made an excellent point
on the sort of problems the ADA will cause if applied to the web when
he testified, “Amateur publishing, as by the owner of a small business
or a community group that relied on volunteers, would become more of a
legal hazard. The tendency would be for more entities to turn their web
publishing function over to paid professionals.”

I run a very successful site
on the animal rights movement
where about 250 people post regularly in a discussion forum I’ve set up.
One of the things I’ve been contemplating over the past few weeks is setting
up a program so those folks can create their own web pages on my server
relating to animal rights (kind of like a small, more focused Geocities
or Tripod). Who would the liability fall under for out of compliance web
pages on such an endeavor? Maybe me, maybe the individuals, but who wants
to risk a lawsuit just to find out?

Many years ago I worked at
a college newspaper. Some folks who thought our paper was a little too
close to the university administration decided to start their own student
group and publish an alternative newspaper. Unfortunately the student’s
began printing rather outrageous claims about individual professors and
administrators and the university brought in the lawyers. The lawyers
were afraid somebody would sue the group for libel and then try to recover
large damages from the university. Whether or not such a scenario was
likely, the university did not want to risk such litigation and demanded
the students either a) by libel insurance, which is not cheap, especially
for students or b) cease publishing as a student group. The students took
the latter route.

This is exactly the sort of
scenario which will be repeated by small web publishers in the United
States. The fear of possible lawsuits will drastically alter the behavior
of web publishers. The promise of the web was that rather than the classic
top down publishing model of a small group of people publishing to the
masses, anybody could create a web site. If the ADA and other regulations
begin to be strictly applied to the web, only people who can afford to
retain a lawyer will be able to create a web site. That would knock me
and a lot of other smaller publishers out of the game entirely.

Lack of Trust in Cops? Say It Ain’t So!

 
Today’s Headlines from Libertarian
Sites

A
Presidential Scorecard on Trade
by Aaron Lukas (CATO Institute)

Shifting
Air Traffic Control To A User-Funded Corporation
by Robert W.
Poole, Jr. (Reason)


Advancing Free Trade In Latin America: The Test Of Leadership

by Ana Eiras And Gerald P. O’Driscoll, Jr. (Heritage Foundation)


Why The Case For Tax Cuts Is Failing (And What Should Be Done About
It)
by Bruce Bartlett, Stanley Collender, and Grover Norquist
(Heritage Foundation)

Pragmatism
and Businessmen
by Andrew Lewis (Capitalism Magazine)

   

A CNN story today reported
that Los Angeles judges are beginning to worry that because of the latest
scandal involving the Los Angeles Police Department, in which police officers
may have given false testimony and evidence in thousands of cases, jurors
are beginning to doubt the testimony of police.

Larry Fidler, supervising judge
for the Los Angeles Superior Court Criminal Division, told CNN, “We
are starting to see, based on information I get from the judges I supervise,
that verdicts are being affected, not so much from the evidnece that was
presented in a particular case, but based, aparently — because there
appears to be no othe reason — on the Rampart scandal. It is also very
terrible when people who are overwhelmingly guilty walk away when the
only reason is because there is a general feeling no in the bpulic —
if that’s what its’ coming to — that police officers’ testimony can’t
be trusted.”

But why should Los Angeles
jurors believe anything an LAPD officer has to say after seeing the depths
of the ongoing scandal. Taking into account past scandals, the LAPD (and
other law enforcement agencies) seem singularly unable to rid themselves
of corruption. Until they can do so, it is not unreasonable for jurors
to subject police testimony to the same sort of scrutiny and skepticism
they give to the testimony of other witnesses.

What Fidler’s judges may be
seeing is nothing more than juror’s no longer burying their heads in the
sand and assuming everything that a police officer testifies to is the
gospel truth.

Bill Clinton’s Favorite Serial Killer

 
Today’s Headlines from Libertarian
Sites

A
Presidential Scorecard on Trade
by Aaron Lukas (CATO Institute)

Shifting
Air Traffic Control To A User-Funded Corporation
by Robert W.
Poole, Jr. (Reason)


Advancing Free Trade In Latin America: The Test Of Leadership

by Ana Eiras And Gerald P. O’Driscoll, Jr. (Heritage Foundation)


Why The Case For Tax Cuts Is Failing (And What Should Be Done About
It)
by Bruce Bartlett, Stanley Collender, and Grover Norquist
(Heritage Foundation)

Pragmatism
and Businessmen
by Andrew Lewis (Capitalism Magazine)

   

Imagine a serial killer
who managed to murder literally thousands of people over the course of
a few years. Upon his capture, our killer argues in his defense that while
he may have killed a couple thousand people at the beginning of his murderous
career, in the year before he was apprehended he only murdered a handful
of people. Our hypothetical serial killer goes on to argue that he is
clearly mending his ways and if only society would help him to get on
his feet and established he can dispense with murdering innocent people
altogether.

Certainly any reasonable person
would find such an explanation beyond absurd. Only the most depraved of
individuals would buy into this sort of twisted logic — which is exactly
why it is so appealing to the Clinton administration.

The serial killer in this case
is the Colombian army and the Clinton administration wants to reward its
murderous ways by giving Colombia $1.6 billion in “aid.” Ahead of a vote
on the aid package, Colombian President Andres Pastrana made the rounds
in Washington, DC, meeting with Clinton for 45 minutes. Pastrana beamed
about how human rights violations by the Colombian army had fallen from
about 2,000 per year to about 70 per year.

For his part Clinton, who not
that many months ago promised that the world would do everything in its
power to stop human rights violatiosn, could only manage a typically lame
“see no evil” policy. “There’s always a risk when you go out on a limb
to try to save a neighbor and help people to help themselves, that it
won’t work,” Clinton told reporters. “I believe the risk in the investment
is something that we ought to do.”

But the risks of the U.S. policy
are not to Clinton or Americans, but rather to poor Colombians. The only
reason that the Colombian Army no longer participates in massive human
rights violations is that it outsourced that job to ultra-right wing death
squads which the Army both aids and protects. The paramilitary death squads
are among the most brutal in the region.

Several days before the Clinton
met with Pastranas, for example, Leftist guerillas blew a power pylon.
Right wing death squads immediately announced that they would execute
10 leftist sympathizers for every power pylon destroyed. To back up that
threat, the paramilitaries murdered 26 peasants who they claimed were
sympathetic to the guerillas.

Of course one of the main reasons
many peasant farmers are sympathetic to the Marxist guerillas is because,
unlike the Colombian military, the guerillas tolerate and benefit from
the coca and poppy fields. The war against drugs is really one against
poor peasants, and in exchange for its $1.6 billion aid package, the Clinton
administration wants Colombia to accelerate its war against farmers growing
coca and opium poppies.

Colombia’s defense minister,
Luis Fernando Ramirez, admitted to U.S. reporters recently that a planned
push to eradicate coca crops in southern Colombia will likely ratchet
violence up another notch. “It’s predictable that there’s going to be
violence and marches,” Ramirez said as he showed off three Blackhawk helicopters
donated by the United States to help the eradication efforts.

Ironically Ramirez acknowledged
the Colombian government has a plan to permanently move farmers from the
coca regions — a tactic which the Clinton administration called a war
crime when Serbia tried it.

When critics rightly complained
that the United States had no business fighting a war against Serbia,
Clinton ridiculed his domestic opponents as isolationists who would gladly
sit around while a new Hitler (the third or fourth “new Hitler” in as
many administrations) emerged to conquer the world. But what is the point
in defending the world against the machinations of men like Hitler and
Stalin only to make it safe for paramilitary death squads in Colombia?

Americans should be outraged
at the thought of a single penny of their tax dollars going to help dislocate
and kill poor peasants in Colombia.

New Russian President Rejects Animal Protection Bill

Russia’s Acting President,
Vladimir Putin, was in office less than a week when on January 6 he vetoed
an bill passed by the Russian Duma and the Russian Federation Council
designed by its advocates to prevent animal cruelty. The bill would have
made it illegal to use certain species of animal for food and fur, banned
the harming of animals in the making of films and television programs,
and mandated sterilization/contraception for pets according to a press
release from the Human Society of the United States.

What ultimately killed the
bill, however, were provisions which the Russian fur industry feared would
put a halt to the hunting of seals for furs. Russia’s Itar-Tass news agency
quoted spokespersons for the governors of Russia’s Arkhangelsk region
as urging rejection of the bill to protect that area’s fur industry. “More
than a thousand people involved in the hunting and skinning of seals will
lose their jobs in villages in the Arkhangelsk region,” the spokeswoman
said. “Big losses will be experienced in the fur industry and this may
lead to a mass exodus from the northern polar areas.”

According to Reuters, furs
are relatively common in Russia where the winters are extremely cold.
In the northern regions, for example, temperatures can fall below minus
30 degrees centigrade.

In an odd postscript to Putin’s
veto, the acting president sent a gushing email to animal rights activist
Brigitte Bardot who had urged Russia to pas the bill. No word of a response
from Bardot who has a habit to making extremely disparaging, often ethnocentric
comments about nations that fail to follow her policy recommendations.

It will be interesting to see
how well the animal rights movement fares outside of Western nations.
In the United States and Europe, the animal rights movement tries to piggyback
on highly influential and, in some cases, centuries old philosophical
movements interested in rights issues. Whether or not the animal rights
argument will be able to find a similar cache outside of the industrial
West remains to be seen.

Sources:

Arctic leaders oppose Russian animal rights bill. Reuters, December 23,
1999.

No revolution for Russia’s animals. Humane Society of the United States
press release, January 7, 2000.

Easter Seals gets PETA "Seal of Approval"

    A December 22 press release
from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals announced that Easter
Seals has been given PETA’s seal of approval for signing an agreement
with the Physicians’ Committee for Responsible Medicine certifying it
“does not conduct, commission, or in any way fund experiments on animals
and will not do so in the future.”

    Oddly enough, although PETA
announced this deal, neither PCRM nor Easter Seals has any mention of
such an agreement on their respective web sites.

Reference:

Easter Seals Confirms “No Animal Tests” Policy, Gets PETA “Seal
of Approval”. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals press release,
December 22, 1999.

Researchers stop BSE in mice

    A couple months ago, animal
rights activists trumpeted research providing the closest thing yet to
proof that bovine spongiform disease likely causes the human spongiform
disease CJD. Of course, the research in that case was done in mice which,
according to animal rights activists and groups, can never be accurately
applied to human beings. Now comes word of more such “useless” spongiform
research. An article in The Lancet reports that experiments in mice conducted
by scientists at the Serano Pharmaceutical Research Institute managed
to stop transplanted CJD from growing in mice.

    Spongiform diseases cause nerve
tissue proteins in the brain to fold abnormally, leading to the build
up of a destructive “beta sheet.” The Serano researchers exposed tissue
from the brains of CJD-infected mice to peptides which reversed the structure
of the proteins back to a form similar to the safe original.

Reference:

CJD treatment ‘draws closer.’ The BBC, January 14, 2000.