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Document Type

Note

Publication Date

1-2010

Publication Citation

62 Federal Communications Law Journal 183 (2010)

Abstract

The rise and popularity of online virtual worlds, such as World of Warcraft and Second Life, holds significant promise for people with disabilities. For people who are unable to easily leave home or travel, virtual worlds provide a public venue, wherein people may interact freely without the social stigma that accompanies disability. However, access to these virtual worlds may be inhibited by physical, visual, or aural impairments, and virtual-world developers can be hostile to modifying their products to mitigate these difficulties. Thus, some disability advocates have turned to Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act, arguing that places of public accommodation should include both concrete and virtual places, and that the providers of online services should be held to Title III's accessibility provisions.

This Note discusses the history of Title III jurisprudence as it applies to places of public accommodation other than physical structures, and the current circuit split over whether the Americans with Disabilities Act may apply at all when there is no physical structure. Some circuits argue that, in order for Title III to apply, the discriminatory access must bear some "nexus" with a "place of public accommodation" enumerated by the statute. The other circuits have, at least in dicta, permitted the application of Title III to electronic or online "places," but have distinguished between requiring accessibility to products and services offered, and requiring alteration of the products and services themselves to accommodate people with disabilities.

Because of the nature of online virtual worlds, neither line of precedent is especially amenable in application. Therefore, this Note looks to alternative definitions of "place" offered in other student notes for solutions apposite to online virtual worlds. The solution this Note offers looks to the character of the virtual world as a "platform" for the sale of products in commerce.

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