and Policy looks at how one disabled gamer is suing the developer of Everquest
for alleged discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Does the Americans with Disabilities Act Apply to Virtual
Alexander Stern is suing Sony, the
developer of Everquest, under a new interpretation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The
Act prevents those with disabilities from being discriminated against by
mandating accessibility standards in everything from telephone communication to
Mr. Stern argues that the ADA protections against discrimination extend to
accessibility in virtual worlds. As Stern's legal
filing argues, Sony is holding out on the disabled:
Sony is denying persons with disabilities equal access to the
goods and services Sony provides to its non-disabled customers through each and
all of Sony's computer game software products and each and every upgrade,
sequel, and patch.
Stern's opinion, every patch and upgrade to Everquest and other online games
that doesn't include explicit accessibility features for the disabled
constitutes a willful violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. As an AllGov.com write-up of the Stern filing points out, this
case provides an interesting legal opporunity – the Americans with Disabilities
Act was authored in 1990, before the widespread availability of virtual
the ADA apply to virtual environments? Tough call. Title IV of the
ADA governs telecommunication, which is where virtual worlds are
likely to fall. This is the section that mandated accessibility of telephones
to those with hearing disabilities. Phone companies responded by creating
telecommunications relays – real people mediating calls for those hard of
a real person to play an avatar for a disabled user would be a considerably more
What Stern's Lawsuit Could Mean
a court agrees with Stern, big developers may have quite a bit of work to do.
As we've seen, developing worlds for the blind meant radically reconsidering
what constituted a "virtual environment," but worlds like Second Life
have shown admirable flexibility
in integrating the disabled community into regular gameplay.
lawsuit could also mean that the federal government could soon be taking a much
closer look into the operations of virtual worlds. If the Stern lawsuit becomes
a public issue, legislators will feel pressed to stake out a position on just
how far into the Metaverse the tendrils of government can reach.
already has a small interest in the regulation of virtual worlds – if a
claim for Americans with Disabilities Act protections hit the headlines,
politicians would almost certainly ramp up their schedule of technology-related
hearings. As attention to the issue grows, so will the potential financial
downside to developers like Sony and Blizzard.
Pre-empting a possible fervor by working on a series of best practices related to ensuring access to virtual worlds for all potential users would be a smart move. Will developers respond?