Well it is that time of year again, time for the Accessibility in the News Mid-Year Review. 2020 has certainly been a wild ride in every aspect, including accessibility news. COVID-19 has dominated every news outlet for the past five months, so much so that I had to create a new section of the newsletter dedicated to Coronavirus related news. That being said, I would like to do things a little differently this year than I have in the past. As we celebrate the 30th anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act I want to recognize how far we have come, even if there is still much more room for improvement! With a constant bombardment of disappointing and anxiety inducing headlines facing us on a daily basis, I would like to focus on some positive and heartwarming accessibility news stories that have marked wins for accessibility and have brought our communities closer together.
Top Topics of 2020
MIT Settles Closed Captioning Lawsuit | Voting Accessibility
People With Disabilities Adjust to Remote Learning and Work From Home | Gaming Accessibility
Covid Brings Discussion of Accessibility to the Forefront | Miscellaneous
MIT Settles Closed Captioning Lawsuit
Back in February, in a big accessibility win for University students across the country, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) reached a historic settlement in a closed captioning case. The case was initially brought on by the National Association of the Deaf (NAD) back in 2015 when two cases were filed on behalf of four of their members, one against Harvard and the other against MIT. Plaintiffs claimed that the two universities lacked closed captioning on their publicly available digital 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. In the settlement, MIT vowed to caption all content posted from January 1, 2019 onward. They also agreed to provide captioning for any content published before January 1, 2019 by request. The Harvard case was also settled at the end of last year with a similar outcome.
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
With Covid cases continuing to rise, will every eligible voter even be able to vote come November? People with disabilities have always been faced with this problem, so what is different this year? Unfortunately, pre-covid it seemed like not much would be different. When it came to the primaries, the lack of accessible polling places, polling machines, and distance voting options, people with disabilities were being left behind similar to any other year. However, post-covid it seems like many of these problems may change for the better. As a larger portion of the population has expressed interest in alternative voting options, including mail-in, or online voting, the likelihood that these become accessible has drastically increased. However, many government officials have spoken out against easing voting accessibility, claiming there is an increased risk of fraud, which has yet to be proven. Whether this will turn into a net positive for people with disabilities remains to be seen, we will just have to watch come November.
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
May 12, 2020 – Accessibility matters when it comes to voting – App.com
June 14, 2020 – Blind Voters Fear Loss Of Privacy With Shift To Mail Voting – HuffPost
June 25, 2020 – New York’s New Accessible Absentee Ballots Aren’t Accessible Enough, Voters Say – City Limits
People With Disabilities Adjust to Remote Learning and Work From Home
As quarantine began, the masse shift to online learning and working from home raised significant questions on accessibility. Would schools be able to successfully educate their students at a distance? Would employers find a way to make their digital workplaces inclusive?
The answers to those questions are not so black and white. Sure, the Department of Education announced new guidelines for students with disabilities facing new challenges, but they also didn’t specify how to implement these guidelines. COVID-19 has disproportionately affected the disabled community, it has caused many groups to find themselves facing a whole new set of problems. People who are blind or have visual impairments who rely on touch for daily tasks have now been placed in a situation where any human contact is discouraged. People who are deaf or hearing impaired often rely on lip reading to communicate, and now masks make that impossible. People with autism who have sensory issues are now being forced to wear masks that they are not comfortable with.
However, with every problem comes a solution, and communities have been coming together in an amazing fashion to solve these problems. Educators have worked together to come up with solutions to properly teach their students at a distance. Employers have begun to see the utility of working from home, thereby increasing likelihood of offering it as an option moving forward. The deaf community has banded together to make see through masks serve as protection yet also allow for communication. The autism community has come up with smart and innovative ideas to make wearing a mask more bearable. While accessibility challenges continue to arise, there appears to be no challenge our communities aren’t willing to solve.
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 23, 2020 – Helping students with special needs cope and learn during COVID-19 pandemic – News Center Maine
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
March 31, 2020 – College student makes masks for the deaf & hard of hearing – LEX 18
April 2, 2020 – New Online Resources Available for Deaf Students During COVID-19 – University of Texas
April 2, 2020 – How to help students with a hearing impairment as courses move online – The Conversation
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 15, 2020 – Educators Get Creative To Serve Students With Disabilities – NPR
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 22, 2020 – California School for the Deaf, Riverside, adapts to online learning – The Press-Enterprise
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 Colleges Can Improve Accessibility In Remote Courses – EdSurge
April 30, 2020 – How clear masks can help the Deaf and Hard of Hearing communities – Eight West
May 15, 2020 – Caregiver tips to make mask-wearing easier for people with autism – Austism 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
June 23, 2020 – Department of Education Issues New COVID-19 Guidance for Students With Disabilities – The Mighty
July 18, 2020 – Face masks: Where to buy transparent coverings for people with hearing problems – Independent
The gaming industry has done a great job in recent years of listening to gamers with disabilities. This push has been thanks to amazing organizations like Able Gamers a nonprofit dedicated to improving inclusion in the gaming industry. As well as tech giants like Microsoft who made a huge breakthrough when they introduced their adaptive controller back 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.
This past month 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 and vibration and audio cues the game has been designed to be playable by blind and low vision gamers. However, the studio doesn’t intend to stop here, 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.”
Check out this great accessibility news outlet “ Can I Play That?” to learn more about accessible gaming.
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
Covid Brings Discussion of Accessibility to the Forefront
Despite the negative impacts of COVID-19 on the world as a whole, one silver lining is an increased awareness for digital accessibility. When the world shifted almost entirely to online interactions, for offices, government, and even family gatherings, digital accessibility was thrust into the limelight. To all AITN subscribers this probably wasn’t as apparent, we all pay attention to these issues and most of us have for years. However, when comparing our statistics from May and June last year to this year we have seen a 150% increase in articles. According to a study conducted by the International Association of Accessibility Professionals, 62% of respondents reported that COVID-19 has “raised the awareness and impact of accessibility for their organization.”
What does that mean for the future of accessibility? Although it is still unclear whether this increase in awareness has or will lead to any real change, we can remain hopeful that this is indeed a step in the right direction.
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 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
Good news this year has come in many shapes and forms, trying to fit it all into specific categories isn’t as easy as it seems. Here is an assortment of accessibility achievements, new technology, and heartwarming stories from throughout the year.
January 16, 2020 – Companies Launch Accessible E-Scooters for Disabled Users – GovTech
February 6, 2020 – Six Flags to become first family of parks to earn certified autism center designation – ABC 25
March 19, 2020 – New Airline Seat Design Will Allow Disabled Passengers to Fly in Their Own Wheelchairs – Aviation Pros
April 29, 2020 – Service dogs adjust to social distancing regulations during coronavirus pandemic – WBAL
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
June 9, 2019 – Apple puts accessibility features front and center – TechCrunch
June 22, 2020 – How to say ‘Black Lives Matter’ in sign language and why it’s different for different people – Indy 100
June 24, 2020 – The Latest Barbie Dreamhouse Now Includes A Wheelchair-Accessible Elevator – Simplemost
2020 has certainly been a year to remember, for better or worse, but one thing is for certain, life in quarantine has brought accessibility to an entirely new level of awareness throughout the world. Hopefully we can capitalize on this newfound awareness to emphasize the importance of inclusion for all. The disabled community has always been strong and resilient in the face of adversity, this year is no different. Thank you all for subscribing, sharing, and fighting every day to make our world a more accessible and inclusive one. Stay safe out there and have a wonderful weekend.
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