Accessibility in the News — 12/31/2020.
We made it, 2020 will be officially over at the stroke of midnight across all countries and time zones around the world! I want to thank all of the subscribers to Accessibility in the News for all of your help and continued support throughout 2020 and I wish you and your families a happy and healthy New Year. Special thanks to my son, Sean McElaney, for his ongoing assistance and good humor throughout this year with the weekly postings and organization of the newsletter content on our website.
2020 was filled with enough national and global news to fit into several normal years so it was challenging to sort out the most significant events that happened in the world of accessibility in 2020. From the 30th anniversary of the ADA, to voter accessibility and the build up to November’s election, to COVID-19’s impact on accessibility, and ongoing accessibility litigation, there has been no shortage of headlines in 2020. Under the spotlight of COVID-19 digital accessibility moved to the forefront for most organizations due to employees working remotely, students in all schools taking virtual classes, customers ordering food and home goods online, patients accessing doctors via telemedicine visits, and more financial services, insurance, judicial, and government services being accessed online.
“Your success and happiness lies in you. Resolve to keep happy, and your joy and you shall form an invincible host against difficulties.” ― Helen Keller
The yearly total of curated items in Accessibility in the News was 11,932, the monthly average was 994, and the weekly average was 244. That is a lot of reading and curating in one year but based on the weekly feedback I receive from subscribers it is an important source of news for thousands of people around the world. Below is a monthly breakdown of the all of the categories covered in Accessibility in the News in 2020. To see the complete rundown of all of the 2020 articles and the full repository of previous years you can go to Accessibility in the News. Also, a detailed listing of the ever increasing accessibility statements posted by organizations from around the world can be found at the Accessibility Statement Pages.
2020 has had a tremendous impact on digital accessibility. COVID-19 forced entire sectors online which brought about an increased awareness, understanding, and empathy of what digital accessibility truly means. Hopefully, we can capitalize on this newfound awareness to emphasize the importance of inclusion and access for all. Although 2020 and COVID-19 has brought personal losses, hardship, and pain to millions, it has also highlighted our strength and resilience as human beings, and it has united us as a world community showing us we have more in common than we ever imagined. The disability community has always been strong and resilient in the face of adversity, and this year was no different. Below is a year-end wrap up of these widely covered topics and stories and how they have impacted people’s lives.
The most widely covered accessibility story of the year centered around voting. We saw dozens of weekly articles reporting on the November US elections. Setting politics aside as much as possible while talking about an election, for many voters with disabilities the 2020 election had high stakes. As COVID-19 cases continued to rise leading up to November 4th, questions of voter accessibility remained uncertain. However, accessibility at the polls is not a new challenge for people with disabilities, so what was different this year?
Pre-COVID-19, it seemed like not much would be different. During primary elections, the lack of accessible polling places, polling machines, and distance voting options remained as problematic as they were in any normal year. However, as COVID-19 cases increased around the country, progressive actions were taken in many states. With a need for more at home voting options due to safety concerns, many states issued mail-in ballots, which opened the accessibility of voting to many eligible voters. However, various government officials spoke out against mail in ballots, claiming there was an increased risk of fraud. Many voters with disabilities banded together to file lawsuits against their respective states when they felt they were being prevented from accessing the poll booth. Despite all the challenges involved with the 2020 election, progress was made in the way of voting accessibility.
- January 14, 2020 – Voters with disabilities describe experiences at polls – The Temple News
- February 5, 2020 – Iowa Democrats’ Efforts To Increase Accessibility For Disabled Participants Praised By Some, Fall Short By Others – Kaiser Health News
- May 11, 2020 – Feds Warn States That Online Voting Experiments Are ‘High-Risk’ – NPR
- June 14, 2020 – Blind Voters Fear Loss Of Privacy With Shift To Mail Voting – HuffPost
- July 7, 2020 – Voting by Mail is Essential for Voters with Disabilities, but it’s Not Enough – EIN
- June 25, 2020 – New York’s New Accessible Absentee Ballots Aren’t Accessible Enough, Voters Say – City Limits
- July 13, 2020 – Texas runoff elections show stress of coronavirus on state’s voting system – The Texas Tribune
- June 25, 2020 – New York’s New Accessible Absentee Ballots Aren’t Accessible Enough, Voters Say – City Limits
- September 1, 2020 – Virginia agrees to make mail-in voting accessible to blind voters who sued – Washington Post
- September 9, 2020 – Disability rights group suing Texas counties, including 3 in East Texas, for alleged violations of federal election laws – East Texas Matters
- September 24, 2020 – Blind Voters Are Suing North Carolina and Texas, Arguing that Mail Ballots Are Discriminatory – Time
- September 30, 2020 – Audit found 43 states’ mail-in ballot applications are not accessible for people with disabilities – The Hill
- October 1, 2020 – Digital vote-by-mail applications in most states are inaccessible to people with disabilities – Tech Crunch
- November 30, 2020 – 8 Ways To Make Elections Better For People With Disabilities – Forbes
- December 3, 2020 – Blind Hoosiers File Lawsuit Against the Indiana Election Commission and the Secretary of State – Disability Rights Advocates
Digital Accessibility Litigation
In recent years litigation over inaccessible websites consistently increased across various states. With many facets of life moving online, it made sense that 2020 would continue to see that trend. However, according to a September Seyfarth Shaw article, web accessibility lawsuits were down 15% in the first six month of 2020 compared to 2019. The obvious explanation being that COVID-19 restrictions decreased the courts’ capacity to process filings. Nevertheless, that is not to say that litigation did not pick back up in the second half of the year. According to Jason Taylor, in his freshly published year-end review, digital accessibility litigation increased to 3,550 cases, up by 23% over 2019. Also, Dr. Chris Law’s, 2020 Digital Accessibility Legal Summit, covered this topic in detail.
In an attempt to quell the escalation of digital accessibility litigation, in October members of Congress proposed the Online Accessibility Act (OAA). The OAA intends to require all websites and mobile apps to adhere to WCAG 2.0 which will offer clarity to businesses who are unsure of how to best adhere to the ADA. The other intent of the OAA is to reduce the number of cases filed against unsuspecting small businesses by giving them 90 days following a written notice to make the needed changes to their website. Although there may be some positives to come out of the OAA, it has also been met with some backlash. Many individuals withing the disability community feel the OAA leaves them out of the conversation and only looks at accessibility from a business perspective. For a more detailed description of the OAA, our friend Ken Nakata at Converge Accessibility, has put together an in-depth synopsis.
- February 20, 2020 – MIT to Caption Content After Reaching ADA Settlement – Law Street Media
- March 18, 2020 – Million Dollar Settlements of Closed Captioning Website Accessibility Lawsuits Highlight Need for Dual Approach – Lexology
- March 25, 2020 – Overview of NAD v. Harvard and NAD v. MIT Lawsuits – 3 Play Media
- April 13, 2020 – MIT, Other Universities Settle Closed Captioning Suits – Bureau of Internet Accessibility
- July 6, 2020 – 11th Circuit Refuses to Reinstate Award in Deaf Ex-Costco Worker’s Disability Bias Case – Courthouse News Service
- July 13, 2020 – Gimlet Media Sued for Not Making Podcasts Accessible to the Deaf and Hard of Hearing – Gizmodo
- October 4, 2020 – Online Accessibility Act: Review And Legal Analysis – Converge Accessibility
- October 21, 2020 – Teledoc Sued Over Website Allegedly Inaccessible to Blind – Bloomberg Law
- November 9, 2020 – United States Files Statement Of Interest In San Juan Sidewalk Accessibility Case – DOJ
- November 17, 2020 – How Will DOJ Enforce Title III of the ADA in a Biden Administration? – Seyfarth Shaw
- November 20, 2020 – Lyft Again Defeats Class Status in Wheelchair Accessibility Suit – Bloomberg Law
- December 8, 2020 – WWE Settles Legal Dispute on Accessibility for Blind & Visually Impaired for Online Shop – 411 Mania
- December 2, 2020 – Blind Patient Receives Settlement from Nash Hospitals, Inc. – Disability Rights North Carolina
- December 14, 2020 – Justice Department Reaches Major Olmstead Settlement Agreement with North Dakota – Bureau of Internet Accessibility
- December 16, 2020 – Maryland to pay $360,000 to inmates with disabilities who sued over inaccessibility at state prisons – Baltimore Sun
30th Anniversary of the ADA
On July 25th, 1990, George H.W. Bush signed one of the most important pieces of legislation in American history, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). 2020 marked the 30th anniversary of the signing of the ADA, and people across the country turned out to remember its intent and to celebrate its progress. However, in looking at how far we have come in the past thirty years it is also important to look to the future. There are still many more improvements to be made to advance accessibility.
- July 13, 2020 – Key COVID-19 Accessibility Issues As ADA Turns 30 – Law 360
- July 14, 2020 – The ADA is turning 30, but the built environment is still far from inclusive – Smart Cities Dive
- July 16, 2020 – The ADA 30 Years Later: A Continued Call to Action – The Center for Law and Social Policy
- July 21, 2020– 30 Years Later: How The ADA Changed Life For People With Disabilities – Forbes
- July 22, 2020 – Apple, creatives, and disability rights activists reflect on 30 years of the Americans with Disabilities Act – Apple
- July 22, 2020 – Before the ADA, There Was Section 504 – The New York Times
- December 7, 2020 – Thirty Years Later, Still Fighting Over the ADA – The Regulatory Review
- December 11, 2020 – Furthering the Promise: Increasing Opportunities for Education – U.S. Department of Justice
- December 13, 2020 – Vancouver man, others mark 30th anniversary of Americans with Disabilities Act – The Columbian
Students Adjust to Life Online
At the beginning of the pandemic the Department of Education (DOE) announced new guidelines for students with disabilities facing digital challenges, but the DOE did not specify how schools should implement these guidelines. This led to many educators scrambling for answers when they were in short supply. The transition to online learning was difficult for students and teachers alike, but the individuals that were hurt the most were students with disabilities. Students with learning disabilities like dyslexia, or autism spectrum disorder, often struggled more with distance learning than their classmates.
Setting the tone for accessibility of online educational materials back in February, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) reached a settlement in a long fought closed captioning case. The case was filed by the National Association of the Deaf (NAD) in 2015 when other cases were filed against Harvard and MIT. Plaintiffs claimed that the two universities lacked closed captioning on their publicly available educational content. By not providing closed captioning to their educational materials the university was violating section 504 or the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and Title III of the ADA which both prohibit discrimination on the basis of disability.
- March 18, 2020 – Ed Department Offers More Special Education Guidance Amid COVID-19 – Disability Scoop
- March 18, 2020 – Managing COVID-19 Disruption: Online Accessibility and Anti-Discrimination in Schools – CooleyED
- March 19, 2020 – New Coronavirus Package Could Unravel Protections For Students With Disabilities – HuffPost
- March 24, 2020 – The switch to remote learning could leave students with disabilities behind – PBS
- March 27, 2020 – With Schools Closed, Kids With Disabilities Are More Vulnerable Than Ever – NPR
- April 2, 2020 – How to help students with a hearing impairment as courses move online – The Conversation
- April 15, 2020 – Educators Get Creative To Serve Students With Disabilities – NPR
- April 22, 2020 – California School for the Deaf, Riverside, adapts to online learning – The Press-Enterprise
- April 30, 2020 – How Colleges Can Improve Accessibility In Remote Courses – EdSurge
- October 21, 2020 – Akron family starts outdoor classroom for students with disabilities – Cleveland
- October 22, 2020 – For those affected by COVID-19 shutdown, Texas will spend $30M to help students with severe disabilities but advocates worry it’s not enough – Dallas News
- October 28, 2020 – College Students With Learning Disabilities Are Asking For More Support. Will They Get It? – EdSurge
- November 17, 2020 – ‘How am I going to do this again?’: Michigan families squeezed as COVID cases skyrocket and classrooms shut down – Chalkbeat Detroit
- November 16, 2020 – Betsy DeVos’ Legacy: Transforming How The Education Department Treats Civil Rights – HuffPost
- December 1, 2020 – Education Department Starts Addressing Discrimination Cases Related To COVID-19 – HuffPost
- December 2, 2020 – Millions of children with disabilities are missing out on education. Like me, they deserve to fulfill their potential – CNN
- December 17, 2020 – People with hearing loss shouldn’t have to pay Zoom for captions – Washington Post
COVID-19 Creates New Problems for Everyone
COVID-19 has disproportionately affected the disability community. The virus has inflicted a much higher death rate for people with disabilities than the national average. The Deaf community struggled with reading lips when people were required to wear masks leading to see-through masks which serve as protection while also allowing for better communication. People who are blind or have visual impairments and rely on touch for daily tasks have been placed in situations where touching anything is seen as unsanitary. People with autism struggle with masks due to sensory issues, and in extreme cases have been hospitalized and left to fight COVID-19 on their own as parents have not allowed to be there for support. COVID-19 has been challenging for everybody, but like always the disability community has shown resilience and perseverance in the face of these new challenges.
- April 3, 2020 – Virtual training launches for the blind, visually impaired – ABC News 4
- April 8, 2020 – They are deaf and blind, and social distancing has now taken their ability to touch – Boston.com
- April 8, 2020 – Social distance, blindness and coronavirus: How people with disabilities like me are adjusting – NY Daily News
- April 19, 2020 – After the pandemic: New work at home rules could help people with disabilities land jobs – USA Today
- April 20, 2020 – Working From Home Opens The Door To Employing People With Disabilities – Forbes
- April 20, 2020 – Disability rights advocates urge Education Secretary DeVos to ensure special education students receive equal services – Washington Post
- April 27, 2020 – Being Deaf Can Feel Isolating. Even More So During A Global Pandemic. – HuffPost
- April 29, 2020 – The deaf community is facing new barriers as we navigate inaccessible face masks and struggle to follow news broadcasts and teleconferences — but the tools for accessibility are out there – Business Insider
- April 30, 2020 – How clear masks can help the Deaf and Hard of Hearing communities – Eight West
- May 5, 2020 – ‘I was told I could never work remotely’: Before coronavirus, workers with disabilities say they implored employers to allow them to work from home – Market Watch
- May 6, 2020 – Masks Make Communication Difficult For The Hard-Of-Hearing; Check Out Our Digital And Practical Tips – WLVT
- May 7, 2020 – Student has received more than 20,000 requests for the mask she developed for deaf, hard of hearing – KPAX
- May 15, 2020 – Caregiver tips to make mask-wearing easier for people with autism – Autism Speaks
- June 10, 2020 – Helping people with autism spectrum disorder manage masks and COVID-19 tests – Harvard Health
- June 16, 2020 – Charities for deaf people call for more see-through face masks – The Guardian
- October 26, 2020 – How COVID-19 affects the deaf community – Eastern Progress
- October 23, 2020 – Woman wearing ‘Just Deaf, Not Rude’ mask speaks out after rude encounter with flight attendant: ‘I was very hurt’ – Yahoo
- October 30, 2020 – How masks have become a communication barrier for the deaf community – CBS 42
COVID-19 Brings Increased Awareness of Accessibility
COVID-19 has forced everyone online which has brought the discussion of digital accessibility to the forefront of our lives. When comparing our statistics from last year to this year we have seen a 120% increase in weekly content. That fact alone does not inherently imply that awareness has increased because this year has been chock-full of news in all regards. It is possible that our increase in weekly content is purely due to many large news events impacting our year. However, according to a study conducted by the International Association of Accessibility Professionals (IAAP), 62% of respondents reported that COVID-19 has “raised the awareness and impact of accessibility for their organization.”
- March 21, 2020 – Our Responses to COVID-19 Must Center Disability Justice – Truthout
- March 2020 – The importance of website accessibility in the US, particularly for the sight and hearing impaired, during a pandemic – Norton Rose Fulbright
- April 1, 2020 – FCC Reminds Television Broadcasters and MVPDs to Maintain Accessible Televised Emergency Information During the COVID-19 Pandemic – Davis Wright Tremaine
- April 7, 2020 – ‘This is my contribution’: Deaf ASL interpreters ensure Gov. Hogan’s coronavirus briefings are accessible – Baltimore Sun
- April 7, 2020 – Pandemic Is A Disability For All – Forbes
- April 14, 2020 – Sign Language Interpreters Steal the Show During COVID-19 News Conferences – How Stuff Works
- April 15, 2020 – Deaf community hopes interpreters at COVID-19 press conferences raise awareness, increase accessibility for American Sign Language – Central Illinois Proud
- April 20, 2020 – 3 Ways The COVID-19 Pandemic Could Change Disability Policies And Practices – Forbes
- April 28, 2020 – 7 Ways Our New Disability Accessibility Must Continue After the Pandemic – Yahoo Life
- April 29, 2020 – Disability Will Be Part Of The New Normal – Forbes
- May 6, 2020 – “We have a unique opportunity to design and implement more inclusive and accessible societies” – UN
- May 11, 2020 – COVID-19 Exposes How Many Unemployment Websites Are Truly Terrible – HuffPost
- May 21, 2020 – Will The Current Crisis Give Digital Accessibility An Awareness Boost? – Forbes
- October 2, 2020 – Accessibility at Disney World During the Pandemic – Walt Disney World
- November 8, 2020 – Why Did It Take A Pandemic For Us To Make Halloween Accessible For Kids With Disabilities? – Romper
- November 12, 2020 – What Joe Biden’s Speech Disorder Means For Young Americans With Disabilities – Forbes
- December 14, 2020 – As Hollywood and tech look to boost diversity, accessibility is finally having its moment – CNET
Accessibility in the Outdoors
For many people, 2020 sparked a new love or passion for connecting with nature and exercising. Whether it was to help increase our endorphins, escape the stresses of everyday life and the constant barrage of Zoom calls and political and social unrest news, or to enjoy the beauty that is around us, outdoor recreation increased this year. For many people outdoor activities and outdoor spaces are often inaccessible. In recent years we have seen an increase in effort to increase accessibility to nature, including beach wheelchair mats, and wheelchair accessible trails. Also this year the US Senate passed the Wounded Veterans Recreation Act which allows free access to national parks for any veteran with a disability.
There are many different groups working hard to increase inclusion in the outdoors. Birdability, an organization dedicated to making birdwatching accessible to all, assesses and maps accessibility at birding spots across North America ensuring that nature is not just for the birds. Unlikely hikers is a “diverse, anti-racist, body-liberating outdoor community featuring the underrepresented outdoorsperson.” Their main goal is to make the outdoors inclusive of all people regardless of race, size, or ability.
- July 4, 2020 – Montana adaptive recreation program marks 35 years – Coeur d’Alene Press
- September 3, 2020 – Over Rocks, Hills And Waterfalls, A Sister Fights For Inclusivity – Forbes
- October 21, 2020 – This New Program in Denver Is Paving the Way for Birders With Reduced Mobility – National Audubon Society
- October 28, 2020 – DNR welcomes people with disabilities at wildlife management areas – Monte News
- November 19, 2020 – Showcasing the Michigan DNR: Marking accessibility gains while looking toward a more inclusive future – Michigan Department of Natural Resources
- November 15, 2020 – A Burgeoning Movement Improves Outdoor Accessibility for the Blind – Sierra Magazine
- November 14, 2020 – Making the outdoors accessible to all – Baker City Herald
Accessible travel options is something I feature every week in AITN. In a normal year, travel is such an important part of many people’s lives. However traveling with a disability can be daunting, from bringing a guide dog on a plane, to finding accessible accommodations. Hopefully in 2021 we will be able to start safely traveling again and accessibility will have improved over years past.
2020 saw some wins and some losses when it came to travel. One win was the introduction of a new airline seat design that allows passengers with disabilities to fly in their own wheelchairs. Additionally the Department of Justice settled with Amtrak to resolve disability discrimination across their rail system. Unfortunately, the Department of Transportation gave more leniency to airlines to ban support animals on flights, and American Airlines implemented a rule making it more difficult for passengers with wheelchairs to travel on their planes.
- May 6, 2020 – Researchers Use Computer Chip In Patient’s Brain To Restore Sense Of Touch After Spinal Cord Injury – Study Finds
- May 21, 2020 – Find wheelchair accessible places with Google Maps – Google
- October 10, 2020– Take a spin around the globe with an accessible travel expert – Lonely Planet Travel News
- October 16, 2020 – Travelers With Disabilities Face New Challenges During Covid – Skift
- October 25, 2020 – MTA’s New OMNY Tap-and-Go Fare Setup Leaves Disabled Subway Riders Waiting – The City
- November 2, 2020 – A New Rule Means Some People With Wheelchairs Can’t Fly On American Airlines – NPR
- November 12, 2020 – Paralyzed man sues travel company over Cancun vacation – The Salem News
- November 20, 2020 – Lyft Again Defeats Class Status in Wheelchair Accessibility Suit – Bloomberg Law
- December 2, 2020 – New DOT rule paves the way for airlines to ban emotional support animals on flights – USA Today
- December 2, 2020 – Justice Department Settles with Amtrak to Resolve Disability Discrimination Across its Intercity Rail System – Department of Justice
- December 5, 2020 – Student aims to improve transit for disabled Virginians – New Haven Register
- December 16, 2020 – MTA Announces Accessibility Projects At Eight Stations Throughout The Five Boroughs – Canarsie Courier
The gaming industry has improved its accessibility focus in recent years by listening to gamers with disabilities. This effort has been prompted by organizations like, Able Gamers, a nonprofit dedicated to improving inclusion in the gaming industry. Microsoft made a significant breakthrough when they introduced their adaptive controller in 2018, allowing gamers of all different abilities to enjoy the games they love. This year has followed the trend with more game developers showing how they can push the envelope when it comes to accessibility.
Over the summer the video game developer Naughty Dog released what has been referred to as the most accessible game ever. “The Last of Us 2” is a post-apocalyptic action/adventure game with over 60 different accessibility options. By including high-contrast environments, text-to-speech, vibration and audio cues, the game has been designed to be playable by blind and low vision gamers. The studio doesn’t intend to stop there either, in a tweet from Robert Krekel, the Lead Audio Developer at Naughty Dog stated “[w]e took a big step on The Last of Us Part 2 with accessibility, but we are not satisfied. We will continue to evolve and improve these systems over our coming projects. The goal being that anyone should be able to finish our games. Games are for everyone.”
- June 30, 2019 – Microsoft’s Adaptive Xbox Controller Makes Gaming More Accessible – Now This News
- April 21, 2020 – For physically disabled gamers, the Switch is incredibly accessible. Here’s why. – Washington Post
- April 24, 2020 – Breaking deaf stereotypes and normalizing sign language through gaming – ARS Technica
- June 12, 2020 – The Last of Us Part 2 gives players with disabilities a better gaming experience – CNET
- June 14, 2020 – Blind gamer shares emotional response to The Last of Us Part 2 accessibility options – VG 247
- June 18, 2020 – The Last Of Us Part 2: All Accessibility Options – PlayStation Universe
- June 19, 2020 – Last of Us 2 has ‘changed the game’ for accessibility – CBC News
- June 21, 2020 – Last of Us Part II: Is this the most accessible game ever? – BBC News
- September 19, 2020– How to Make Your Game Streams Accessible with Live Captions – Tom’s Hardware
- October 29, 2020 – Gamers Forge Their Own Paths When It Comes to Accessibility – Wired
- October 30, 2020 – Microsoft’s Xbox Website Allegedly Violates ADA – Law Street Media
- December 21, 2020 – Noteworthy Advancement in Accessibility for 2020 – IGN
Microassist Digital Accessibility Services
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- Accessibility Remediation— Our accessibility remediation services help you fix existing materials so that they conform to WCAG, Section 504 and 508, Department of Education OCR, and ADA Title II/III requirements. We remediate websites, applications, documents, and elearning, recommending re-creation when that is more efficient and economical. Especially for website and applications, to find out what is in need of remediation, we’ll start with an Accessibility Audit.
- Accessibility Training— With several courses available for developers, testers, and content creators, your team can become equipped to consistently and expertly produce accessible digital products and online environments.
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Learn More About Digital Accessibility
Our Digital Accessibility Digest blog covers our Accessibility in the News archives as well as expert commentaries on digital accessibility issues.
Our most popular commentaries include:
- The WCAG 2.1 Update: A Brief Look at What’s Changed
- Introducing VPAT®0, the More Stringent Accessibility Reporting Tool Required for Government IT Procurement
- Accessibility in the News, Legal Edition: Updates on ADA Title III News and More
- What Lawyers Need to Know: A Primer on Digital Accessibility Terms and Today’s Legal Landscape