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History of UD for Information: U.S.A.

UD for Information in American Law

The U.S. was one step ahead of Japan when spreading the concept of Universal Design for information. There are also sources that believe the origin of the Internet to be the U.S. On the contrary, the level of information technology, including public broadcasting and computers in Japan has steadily flourished.

In the U.S., the success of UD for information can be traced to the enactment of several laws that have assured the right for equal information for persons with disabilities. In 1990, the ADA Law, which assures equal rights to all persons with disabilities, was established. With the enactment of this law followed a requirement for all products and services to be accessible to all persons with disabilities. A rush to acquire knowledge regarding universal design arose from product and service industries and suppliers.

The History of Closed Caption Broadcasting as UD

In America, before the spread of Universal Design as a concept, there were movements towards ensuring equal information to all people. One exemplary movement was the development of American closed caption broadcasting. The American closed caption broadcasting generally refers to subtitles that can be turned on and off. This is useful not only to persons with hearing disabilities, but also to citizens whose native language is not English, and this service is also viewed as an educational tool for children; closed caption broadcasting is therefore considered to be a universally designed form of information.

Closed caption broadcasting in America officially began in 1973. At first, this service was offered only to a few broadcasted programs, and was not applied to all programs. With time, closed caption broadcasting spread and now, there is a regulation that mandates all programs to be subtitled by the year 2006. The development of the closed caption broadcasting is a result of (1) ardent grass roots activity by organizations of citizens with hearing disabilities, (2) the development of new technology championing these causes by industries, and (3) the development of laws. Regarding laws that pertain to closed caption broadcasting, in 1990 the Television Decoder Circuitry Act was implanted - the same year as the ADA. This law states that all televisions over 13 inches must have a preinstalled television decoder. The culmination of many efforts has helped to transform closed caption broadcasting into a service useful not only to persons with hearing disabilities, but a larger market of consumers with similar needs.

UD for Information Technology

In 1996, the Telecommunications Act (Section 255) was enacted. This law declares that persons with disabilities have the right to normal access of all forms of telecommunication, including information technology and its contents.
When the ADA and the Telecommunications Act were established however, they pertained to the general assurance of information and did not include the Web or other specific forms of information media.
These laws were not created to mandate the exact form which information should take on the Internet or public broadcasting. If however a consumer with a disability could not use a certain service as a result of their disability, this consumer can use this law to claim a complaint. With the emergence of this law, many industries brainstormed how to support these new needs. In 1997, the afore-mentioned Telecommunications Act has been a strong force in activating the creation of a guideline for telecommunications technology. This guideline explains what features must be taken into account when producing telecommunication devices. This guideline highlighted mostly hardware related interface regulations for individuals with disabilities, but it is also considered a reliable basic reference for homepage design.
The enactment of Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1986 was a catalyst in spreading Universal Design for information technology. This law that requires all IT machinery and tools to be accessible to persons with disabilities, has reached Japan, heavily influencing our way of thinking. In 1998, this law was amended and included in the Workforce Investment Act. (The Workforce Investment Act of 1998, Public Law 105-220, was enacted on August 7, 1998. Title IV of the Act is the Rehabilitation Act Amendments of 1998. Subsection 408(b) amended section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (29 U.S.C. 794d)). This subsection 508 requires all Federal agencies to provide information technology that is accessible by all federal employees with disabilities.
Section 508 also states that all electronic and information technology created in the United States must be developed, procured and managed to be accessible for all persons with disabilities, and persons seeking information from the government. The bottom line - information technology created by the government of the United States of America must be accessible in order to be manufactured. Since June 21 of 2001, all consumers have been able to use this law to bring civil action against the U.S. government. In addition, the breadth of this law does not only pertain to the U.S. government. All institutions receiving funding from the Technology Act must also abide by this law; this includes almost all of North American public facilities.
Members of IT industry in America have created special departments to specifically oversee product development that abide by Section 508. This was in effort to avoid costs of creating specially manufactured products both publicly and privately, and to supply products efficiently to the government.



The Web Accessibility Initiative(WAI) was established in 1996. The WAI is a group within the WWW Consortium (W3C: a consortium which deliberates web standards on an international level) that concentrates on issues of web accessibility. Due to the strong influence of the WAI, accessibility under universal design principles has been considered for the standardization of Internet technology. Version 4.0 of HTML was created under such standards. In 1999, the Web Contents Accessibility Guideline 1.0 was announced, offering more constructive insight on creating accessible homepages. In addition, there have been increased developments of accessibility technology parallel to the development of Internet technology.

The aforementioned ADA, Telecommunications Act, and Rehabilitation Act are also applicable to the Internet; Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1998 is based on fulfilling Priority 1 and 2 of the Web Contents Accessibility Guideline 1.0. Each of these steps has propelled this movement forward, and continues to support the motions of UD for the Internet.