Americans with Disabilities Act 1990 (ADA)

Awareness Procedure

"Walk a mile in my shoes"

Objective: To increase the sensitivity of non-disabled students to needs and obstacles of disabled students and faculty, and to evaluate the conformance of their institution's computer facilities to the ADA stipulations. To begin to build bridges between the legal requirements and ethical considerations.


  1. Read the two on-line ADA summary documents in the references below, and answer the questions on Worksheet Part I.
  2. Out-of-class, in pairs from your normal group, conduct a role playing exercise to sensitize students to the needs of handicapped students.
  3. Out-of-class, as a group perform an audit of the conformance of local computer facilities to the ADA and develop a report on any needed modifications.
  4. Following the first three activities answer the questions on Worksheet Part II.
  5. Hand-in your worksheets and reports.

A follow-up class may include a return visit of the person on campus responsible for ADA conformance to present and discuss the groups' findings and recommendations.

Time Frame Estimate: One class hour to review the requirements of the ADA and an additional two hours outside, in pairs and groups.


Boyer, Kevin. 1996. Computers and Ethics, IEEE Computer Society Press, p. 368.

"The American with Disabilities Act Public Law 101-336", President's Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities, (last accessed 98/08/05)

"Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA)", Florida Agricultural Information Retrieval System, (last accessed 98/08/05).

ADA Worksheet - Part I

1. Read the accompanying articles on the Americans with Disabilities Act 1990.

2. What is a "disability"?

3. What is a "reasonable accommodation"?

4. What is an "essential hardship"?

5. What is the impact of "undue hardship" on the provision of accommodation?

6. Who determines that some proposed action will constitute a "undue hardship"?

7. On what grounds would this act be applicable to computers in a university laboratory?

8. Does the ADA apply to software as well as hardware?


Out-of-class Activity I - Disability Awareness

Project: Within the class pair off to provide a person who will role play as a disabled student and another who will serve as an safety controller, observer, and recorder. Each pair chooses a challenge and a computer-related device to investigate. The role player then develops some means to limit their actions in the manner of the chosen challenge and attempts to use the computer device in the manner to which they are accustomed. Take some activity which the role player would normally undertake, such as writing a letter using a word processor, and discover what limits now exist because of the disability. Then change places.

 Linear Version of Challenges Table


Role Playing Restriction

Restricted mobility (e.g. wheel chair bound)

tie elbows to side;

use a pencil or straw in the mouth to depress keys on the keyboard

Partial Visual handicap (e.g. bi[tri]focals, color blindness)

mask with narrow slit;

Limited mobility (e.g. Arthritis)

wear thick gloves;

using tape, restrict the movement of the fingers on the hand;

get a neck brace (someone in the class has probably has had whiplash injury!)


put one arm in a sling (the arm normally used)

Hearing challenged

wear ear plugs or head phones

Linear Version of Computer-Related Devices Table

Computer-related device access:

Sample Problems

Position of computer, screen, keyboard on table/desk

Wheelchair will not allow user to reach keyboard

Where is on/off button?

Disk drives

Drive entrance is not easily located

Key size

Keys are too small, printed letters too small


Which is better a mouse, trackball, joystick, touch pad?

Height of display

Does user have to lean head too far back to read?

Windows and Icons vs. textual systems

Text can generally be increased in size, but images (icons) cannot

Word processor software

The user actions are amenable to use by disabled persons


Can output be reached?

Can the print cartridge be replaced?

Is the output readable?

Is a helper readily available?

Write a report on your findings.


Out-of-class Activity II - ADA Conformance

Form groups from 2 to 3 pairs and complete the following audit activities ­ a general audit of a computer facility (PC classroom or laboratory), and a reasonable accommodation audit of that facility for the specific disabilities reviewed in the previous exercise.

The course leader should ensure that each group audit a different computer facility, and different from the one they possibly used in the previous exercise.

Audit Questions:

Write a report on your findings.


ADA Worksheet - Part II

1. Would it be a reasonable accommodation to provide a blind student with a student reader and typist?

2. Should a potential student who cannot be provided with a reasonable accommodation be denied admission into a degree program?

3. Is it unreasonable if the reasonable accommodation for a handicapped student negatively impacts other students? For example if the number of students that can be accommodated in a laboratory is significantly reduced?

4. Who defines (accepts) that a person is disabled?

5. Is it necessary to provide accessibility before any disabled student arrives?

6. Would it be a satisfactory accommodation to provide computer access for disabled students in some other facility than the general computer laboratory?

7. If reasonable accommodations cannot be made would be necessary to restrict all student access to the maximum degree that access could be provided to disabled students?

8. Would it be necessary to make accommodations in a public library for a person with Alzheimer's disease?

9. Did you find any references to "assistive technology"? If so, how would this overcome barriers that you identified in the audits?

10. Is "assistive technology" a means of developing "reasonable accommodations"?

11. Should software developers be required to produce alternative implementations that are "reasonable accommodations"? Should such users be required to pay the extra costs of such versions, or should the cost be amortized over the total sales?

Last updated 98/08/10
© J.A.N. Lee, 1998.
Developed at the NSF Workshop on Teaching Ethics and Computing, University of South Florida, August 1998, Grant No. DUE 95-52792

Bobby Approved (v 3.1)