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January 20, 2010
Will WEXIS Online Get Access for the Disabled Legal Researcher Right This Time? (And What About Law-Related Print Monographs?)
Online legal resources and digitial formats of print legal materials must be as easy to find for purchase, access and use by all. If you do not believe in that proposition there is no need to read the rest of this post. If you do...
Are fee-based online legal research services fully compliant with Section 508? Can you even find a Section 508 Compliance statement on WEXIS as easy as you can on HeinOnline? We all know that when federal departments and agencies procure electronic and information technology they are required to ensure that federal employees and members of the public with disabilities who access and use the information and data provided have service comparable to the employees and members of the public without disabilities unless it is an undue burden to do so. Similar requirements exist at the state level. This "undue burden" provision is a cop-out; it places the burden on the contracting agency but in this day and age of electronic print production and online distribution, there is no "undue burden" on the part of WEXIS or any other major government contractor providing legal resources to make the information they provide fully accessible to all and sufficient easy to use for all.
It will be very interesting to see if WEXIS roll-outs coming this year will be in full compliance. If not, governments should just say "no," and contract services with vendors who are. The ABA Commission on Mental and Physical Disability Law is calling on legal employers to implement and promote disability diversity in the legal profession. Law firms, law schools, ABA sections, and state and local bar associations (but not enough) are signatories [current list here] to the pledge the Commission is sponsoring. To date, neither AALL nor any local AALL chapter has signed on in support!
One would hope all private and public employers, bar associations, library associations and particularly law schools as the source of future lawyers would give non-compliant legal research services a drop dead deadline to not just merely comply with Sec. 508 but go beyond its nominal requirements because the technological solutions are readily available to legal publishers.
Legal research is after all a fundamental facet of teaching and practicing law. This is long overdue. Will it take DOJ intervention similar to the recent Kindle DX settlement with universities to get the ball rolling in the legal academy? Perhaps the ABA Commission on Mental and Physical Disability Law should be thinking about lawsuits against the legal academy if WEXIS doesn't come through this go-around in a very big way.