First Amendment Discrimination and Disability Access
Whenever libraries make rules governing their users’ speech, the First Amendment and Florida free speech guarantees must be considered.
In essence, restrictions on speech should be content-neutral, and should be regulated based on time, place or manner.
Cell phone rules should be based on content-neutral criteria. Libraries have great latitude in determining these rules. It would be problematic, however, to allow cell phone usage for E-Government users who may need to call home, and not allow others to call home. If cell phone rules are relaxed due to E-Government needs, they should be relaxed for all.
May a library offer additional resources such as E-Government designated laptops? This is probably acceptable, since the library may choose which programs it sponsors, so long as the program is open to all users on an equal basis.
Civil Action for Deprivation of Rights
Library users can recover under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 if they can show the library deprived them of rights guaranteed by the Constitution or laws of the United States. This claim is commonly used in claims of racial and other discrimination. Assuming that the library staff treats all users equally without discrimination, the burden is high on the library user to make a viable claim. The user must show that the library staff violated such a concrete right that all reasonable library staff would have known that what the staff did violated federal law.
A recent Florida Fourth District Appellate case arising in Broward County may be instructive. A landowner sued a town building official, a deputy town attorney, and the town itself when his application to build a home was returned, along with a letter from the attorney saying the home would violate the town’s land use plan. The landowner claimed that the town aimed to depress the value of his lot. He also claimed that the building official did not simply deny his application, but failed to formally process it.
The appellate court held that the officials' decisions, even if wrong, were made in the performance of their duties and within the scope of their authority. In order to establish a § 1983 claim, the landowner would have had to establish that the refusal to allow him to develop his land violated such a concrete right that all reasonable town officials would have known what the officials did violated federal law. He failed to meet that burden. Accepting his allegations as true, he failed to offer persuasive authority holding that the officials' conduct violated due process rights (Town of Southwest Ranches v Shahab Kalam, 2008).
In delivering E-Government services, federal agencies are subject to the Electronic and Information Technology Accessibility Standards of Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act. Similarly, state and local governments are subject to the effective communication and equal access and benefit provisions of ADA Title II, and/or Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act for receipt of federal funds.
A library user who does not speak English does not qualify as an individual with a disability.
The Brookings Institution gave Florida the third highest ranking score on E-Government features (after Delaware and Georgia) based on 18 criteria such as privacy, security, comments, etc. Florida received a much lower score on disability access, measured by standards recommended by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) as applied by Wave Version 4.0 software (Brookings, 2008).
The American Library Association issued its Library Services for People with Disabilities Policy in 2001. Although it does not have the force of law, it does point to best practices in delivering services, and states that libraries may provide volunteer readers in the library, volunteer technology assistants in the library, among other accommodations.
Whenever possible, the library should provide accessible technology that enables users to interact with E-Government sites without assistance or with minimal assistance.
In the event that staff or volunteers are assisting users by reading aloud or inputting user data, there should be extra caution taken to avoid interpreting information. Library personnel must not step over the line into the unlicensed practice of law.