By Kristina M. Launey

Once again, CSUN’s International Technology and Persons with Disabilities Conference brought together thought leaders, programmers, corporate and governmental accessibility representatives, vendors of digital accessibility solutions, advocates, and others in the field of digital accessibility to share developments and ideas. The large, varied crowd, as well as the substantive sessions, remove any possible doubt that the area of web and mobile accessibility is rightfully garnering a lot of attention.

Although the Department of Justice is still working on proposed regulations that would presumably adopt a legal standard defining what is an accessible website or mobile app, its recent enforcement actions make clear that the absence of regulations poses no impediment to legal action against businesses for not having accessible websites or mobile apps. Private plaintiffs have been also been very active in filing lawsuits or asserting such claims against many companies.  In this climate, many companies that have either been the targets of these actions, or just paying close attention to these developments, have decided that it is better to commit to accessibility now than to engage in a protracted and expensive legal battle.  Moreover, as many companies at the conference have recognized, building accessibility into any refreshes, redesigns, or new rollouts of websites or mobile apps makes sense over increased expense of remediating those same sites later, especially if remediation is done in response to legal action.

The conference’s legal update session drove these points home.  Accessibility civil rights attorneys Lainey Feingold and Linda Dardarian emphasized their position that Title III of ADA does cover websites, and gave a year-in-review report of digital accessibility legal developments in the following industries:

  • Education: Lawsuits and settlements regarding tactile graphics, alternative formats, and a settlement reached last Wednesday with a university regarding electronic textbooks, online courseware, web access policy, among other things.
  • Voting: A lawsuit brought under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act against a California county for failure to maintain accessible features on voting machines so those features actually function on election day.
  • Healthcare: The presenters noted their belief that the voting machines decision has broad application in other areas, such as in healthcare, where privacy and confidentiality are important.  They discussed three separate matters they resolved through structured negotiations against a weight loss company, healthcare insurance provider, and pharmacy in which each agreed to make its website and mobile apps WCAG 2.0 compliant and to provide print materials in alternative formats, including braille, large print, audio, and electronic format; the pharmacy also agreed to an electronic method of providing information on prescription bottles audibly.  They are likely currently investigating or in discussions with other pharmacies judging by their comment “we’ll likely have some other pharmacies to talk about next year.”
  • Financial services: A recent consent decree between the Department of Justice and an online tax preparation service, in which the tax preparation service agreed to bring its website and mobile apps into compliance with WCAG 2.0 AA; and settlements against a smart phone credit card scanning device company and a bank for talking ATMs.
  • Employment: Separate cases against a hotel chain and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security by employees claiming they couldn’t use computer systems at work because they were not compatible with assistive technologies the employees used [note: these employment cases do not fall under Title III of the ADA].
  • Communications: They discussed the CNN case pending in a district court in California, dealing with captioning of online news stories, which we’ll blog about in more depth soon.
  • Publishing: A lawsuit regarding the copyright implications of digitization of books to make them readable using assistive technologies by individuals with vision impairments.
  • Grocery: A recent structured negotiations settlement with a major grocery retailer regarding online grocery delivery, ensuring customers with disabilities do not need to utilize a separate website than all other customers to order groceries online.
  • Transportation: A settlement regarding mobile app accessibility of ridesharing services; and a suit and investigations into the accessibility of payment point of sale devices in the back of taxi cabs.
  • Retail: Settlement negotiations with a video rental kiosk company regarding installation of tactile keypads and audio output; and a new suit against a major retailer that challenges its point of sale system across the United States.

Other highlights at the conference included “behind the curtain” looks at how companies have built accessibility into their corporate cultures.  One such presentation, by members of AT&T’s Corporate Accessibility Technology Office (CATO), Mark Balsano (Executive Director of Compliance), Jeff Brandt (Director, New Technology Product Development Engineering), and Paul Luther (Principal, Accessibility Solutions Engineer), explained the process through which AT&T created its centralized accessibility initiative in just over 2 years; starting with one person in October 2012 to a department of 30-40 people today. Especially interesting was their review of AT&T’s strategic partnership with branding (which affects websites, digital advertising, email, pdfs delivered electronically, and power points) to encourage coders to follow brand standards and promote enterprise-wide accessibility in the process. They found that that branding-specified colors were of insufficient contrast and that there was an issue with coders following brand standards.  Now, as a result of the partnership, following branding means being compliant with internet accessibility standards as well.  They plan to promote greater accessibility throughout AT&T’s business units with a number of initiatives such as accessibility training and standards and continued collaboration with disability advocacy groups to remain current on needs of people with disabilities.

Finally, web accessibility consultants and contractors like Deque and SS Bart Group showcased their latest cutting edge technologies and services to help companies ensure their websites stay ahead of the curve in web access compliance.

For those of you were unable to attend the CSUN conference but who would like a brief primer and update on website and mobile app accessibility, we will be hosting a webinar on this topic on April 2, 2014 with digital accessibility consultants SSB Bart Group. Click here to register.

Edited by Minh N. Vu