Screen readers are computer programs that use external synthesizers or more commonly, sound cards to read text aloud from left to right. Their functionality for web pages tends to be only as good as the design of the page.
A recent lawsuit by the National Federation of the Blind highlighted AOL's inaccessibility because of their rampant use of graphics and frames.
Telecommunications Act of 1996, Section 255- States, " A provider of telecommunications services shall ensure that the service is accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities, if readily achievable. Manufacturers and service providers must develop a process to evaluate the accessibility, usability, and compatibility of the covered services and equipment, and incorporate such an evaluation throughout the product design, as early and as consistently as possible."
Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990- "No qualified individual with a disability shall, by reason of such disability, be excluded from participation in or be denied the benefits of the services, programs, or activities of a public entity, or be subjected to discrimination by any such entity."
Rehabilitation Act, Section 508- "Section 508 is a part of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 which requires that electronic and information technology developed, procured, maintained, or used by the Federal government be accessible to people with disabilities."
http://weber.u.washington.edu/doit/Resources/web-design.html, U of Washington, Accessible web page design
http://www.trace.wisc.edu/world/web/index.html, Trace Center, Designing more usable websites
http://www.w3.org/WAI/, W3C, Web accessibility Initiative
http://www.igs.net/~starling/acc/index.htm, Starling Access Services, Accessible web page design
http://www.psc-cfp.gc.ca/dmd/access/welcome1.htm, Public Service Commission of Canada, Designing universal web pages
http://cmos-eng.rehab.uiuc.edu/what/, U of Illinois, HTML web accessibility tool
http://www.cast.org/bobby/, Center for Applied Assistive Technology
http://www.nist.gov/itl/div894/vvrg/webmet, National Institute of Standards and Technology