In the webinar, 2020 Legal Update on Digital Accessibility Cases, Lainey Feingold breaks down the recent digital accessibility wins, cases to watch out for, and upcoming legislative changes to be aware of.
Recent Wins in Digital Accessibility
2020 has been a monumental year for the rights of disabled people.
The election and advent of the coronavirus have shed light on the obstacles in voting and inequalities in pertinent communication regarding the COVID pandemic.
In regards to voting, the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) has made important strides to ensure blind voters have the right to privately and independently cast their ballot across local, state, and federal elections.
As part of the NFB’s strategy to ensure a fair and equal voting experience for blind voters everywhere, the NFB filed suits “in both Texas and Virginia seeking court orders requiring those states to make needed changes to their voting procedures. Litigation is also ongoing in Michigan, New Hampshire, New York, and Pennsylvania.”
In their Resolution 2020-23, the NFB is also demanding Congress amend the Help America Vote Act signed in October 2002, to:
- Require that there be at least one accessible ballot-marking system in each polling place for all local and state elections in addition to all federal elections.
- Include vote-by-mail and absentee voting and to require that an accessible electronic ballot-delivery system be available to voters with disabilities for all local, state, and federal elections.
- Provide the authority and funding to the Election Assistance Commission necessary to develop and implement federal guidelines to ensure the accessibility, usability, and security of electronic ballot-delivery systems, and to develop a certification program to certify systems that meet these guidelines.
- Provide funding to the EAC for grants to develop technology that will enable electronically delivered ballots to be returned electronically in a secure manner, that will enable blind voters independently to verify their printed ballots, and to develop technology that will tabulate ballots printed from home or office printers in a manner that preserves the secrecy of the ballot.
With regards to the coronavirus pandemic, the National Association of the Deaf (NAD) has brought multiple lawsuits to get sign language interpreters at COVID press conferences citing a violation of the First Amendment.
In a historic win, the U.S. Washington District judge ruled that held by the “any coronavirus-related press conference “president, vice president or White House press secretary held on White House grounds or any federal agency” must have a qualified sign language interpreter present. The ruling came into effect on October 1st, 2020.
Similarly, the state of Florida was sued by the NAD for not captioning archived and current legislative hearings. The state of Florida attempted to get the case thrown out claiming the ADA didn’t cover captioning. However, the 11th Circuit judge announced the case can move forward proving that the ADA can be used to protect the rights of deaf individuals.
HBO & Audio Description
Audio description is an accommodation for blind or low vision viewers that narrates the relevant on-screen information in a video.
As part of a structured negotiation effort between HBO, the American Council of the Blind, and Disability Rights Advocates, HBO agreed to add audio description to its HBO Max programming.
As Lainey notes, “To me, this is a reminder that your accessibility program has to always be a step ahead of where the technology is now, because now everything is streaming.”
In a recent settlement, a blind woman applying for a customer service job at Amazon was unable to apply for the job because the application platform was inaccessible.
As Lainey emphasizes, “There’s no employment without accessibility anymore, especially during the pandemic. People are working from home. But even when people go back, if we ever 100% go back, digital accessibility is key to the employment of disabled people.”
In another structured negotiation settlement, Patreon agreed to make its content accessible, following the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) as well as the Authoring Tool Accessibility Guidelines.
Patreon’s VP of Engineering stated, “It was important for us to work on this inclusive initiative with representatives of the blind community. Diversity and inclusion are core values at Patreon. Making our services available to a wide array of creators and their patrons is not only in line with our core behaviors but also important for the blind community.”
Cases to Watch
While 2020 has brought many historical wins for the blind and deaf community, there are several cases to watch that are already making waves:
- Walmart: In an ongoing lawsuit, Walmart was sued by two blind people who were unable to use the kiosk at their stores. Instead of receiving help, an employee stole their money. The case is currently in discovery.
- The $66 million websites: The state of California bought a website for $66 million dollars to house information of their park system. The website was supposed to be accessible, but it wasn’t. This is a false claim lawsuit against the vendor, for falsely promising to deliver an accessible website. As Lainey notes, “you can no longer just say, give me something accessible, and expect it to happen. There needs to be systems.” A trial is set for next September.
- Duke University: Duke University was sued for having an inaccessible MBA program. A blind student attempting to apply faced barriers on the University’s website, course descriptions, and recruiting system. The case was filed in June 2020.
- ADP: ADP was sued because their cloud payroll system was not working for blind people.
- Gimlet: In a case filed this year against the podcast provider, deaf individuals were unable to access the content. No verdicts or updates have been provided for this case.
Digital Accessibility in 2021
As we continue to battle the coronavirus and increasingly rely on digital communications, companies will need to ensure all digital communications are accessible. Digital accessibility is crucial to an inclusive and thriving digital environment.
Watch the full 2020 legal update with Lainey below.