Understanding Disability Discrimination Legislation

My regular readers may be very aware that I tend to steer quite clear of deeply legal aspects of a given field. This is not because of a disdain I have for legal and political science, it’s because of a lack of mastery of them. I’m not a lawyer nor politician, so I never feel entirely qualified to talk about something like disability discrimination legislation.

Now, there’s a problem with my (likely cowardly) tendency to do that. In the case of disability discrimination legislation … well, technology people need to hear about the ramifications and requirements of this from fellow technology people. This sees to it that the vital information is received, from a source they expect to make sense, and is presented in a relatable way.

There’s not a lot I can do, though, to take the “legalese” nature of this out, but I can show how it relates to you as a designer, programmer or other creative role in technology.


I’ll be going by the US legislation on this, because I had to pick a country and most readers coming here hail thence. But, for readers in most other English speaking countries – your politicians undoubtedly adopted the US’ rulings on this since they make sense.


What is disability discrimination? In an age of litigation over coffee being hot, it’s kind of scare to hear the word “discrimination” brought up, even in non-accusatory context, isn’t it? If you so much as blink, someone is apt to claim you discriminate against people who can’t blink or something equally ridiculous.

But, thankfully, the Americans with Disabilities Act defines it rather plainly. Discrimination takes place when an employee or customer or other professional relationship of this caliber is regarded differently (in a positive or negative way) from any other employee or customer. Now, of course, that in and of itself could be left open to interpretation. Of course someone in, say, a wheel chair, has to be regarded slightly different in certain ways, such as accommodations for mobility in a location, ability to reach things and all that.

That’s not what they mean. What they mean is in how respected they are, what opportunities for advancement they have, or in the case of customers, how accessible the facility is.

What this Means to Designers:

Well, aside from how you should all act in your own workplace, and how disabled people therein should be treated, this puts the onus on you to make your software or other technology helpful in other businesses complying to the Disabilities act.

Accessibility isn’t all about accommodating people with disabilities, but that is a huge part of it. So, designing the software so that people with functional disabilities (impaired movement within reason, reading issues not reflecting intellect, the list can go on) is going to go a long way in making it easy and to the point for companies to make working life for disabled employees just as productive and issue-free as those not disabled in any real ways.


Well, the worst that can happen to you as a design group for not being helpful with this, is that you’re not being terribly nice and will have a reputation for this kind of disregard. But that’s bad enough. Really, even that’s more than the motivation of ethics you should have in a perfect world.

However, since disability discrimination legislation in most first world nations brings with it severe penalties to those who foolishly violate it … well, you want companies that use your technology to succeed and be free of such issues, right? Successful customer companies are loyal and repeat ones, and building blocks for larger communities of users!


Amy Clark is the Lead Author & Editor of IWantItNow Blog. Amy established the Customer Engagement blog to create a source for news and discussion about some of the issues, challenges, news, and ideas relating to customer service, support and engagement.