Every Week We Curated the Hottest Accessibility and Disability News Headlines—More than 2,000 this Year!
Here are Our Top 10 Accessibility News Stories and Topics of 2017.
This was a busy year for pivotal accessibility and disability news. Government policies and judicial actions weren’t always predictable, but their impact will continue for years to come. Innovation had a prime seat at the table, with techniques, tools, and approaches from industry giants and smaller groups alike. Legal actions and civil rights complaints made headlines nearly every week, affecting retail, food services, banking, education, travel and transportation, and more.
Please take a moment with me to review the topics that made headlines most often, heavily influencing the accessibility conversations of the year. Each of these solidly earned their place as one of the Top “Accessibility in the News” Topics of 2017 (Have changes/additions/suggestions? Let us know in the comments!):
- Department of Justice Website Accessibility Regulations and Rulemaking
- Winn Dixie, Dominoes Web Accessibility Decisions Get the Spotlight as Web Accessibility Lawsuits Rise
- Uber Struggles with Wheelchair Transport and Equitable Services
- Travel Apps Make Finding Accessibility Services Easier
- Google’s Accessibility Services Opens Doors to Security Vulnerabilities
- New Technologies and Innovations from Industry Giants and Lesser Known, but Remarkable, Creators
- Education Organization Websites Targeted for OCR Complaints
- Section 508 Refresh Incorporates WCAG 2.0
- Refresh Wanted for the International Symbol of Access
- Ultra-Accessible Texas Water Park Gets National Attention
Department of Justice Website Accessibility Regulations and Rulemaking
Just a few days ago, the Department of Justice officially quashed any near-future clarity regarding website accessibility regulations, announcing that it was withdrawing its two related advanced notices of proposed rulemaking. Years in the making and with several deferments along the way, the DOJ’s Advanced Notices of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) related to website accessibility was most recently scheduled for 2018, and were expected to provide clarity on ADA online compliance requirements. Earlier this summer however, the DOJ moved that rulemaking to “inactive status.” That left any decision making up to the courts, resulting in varying decisions.
With the plug officially pulled (See December 26, 2017: DOJ Officially Pulls the Plug on Regulations Already on Life Support, National Law Review), it looks like 2018 will see no slow down in legal actions taken against organizations with inaccessible websites. In chronological order, here are top news and commentaries on DOJ ANPRM developments in 2017:
- July 25, 2017: DOJ Puts Website Accessibility Regulations on Inactive List, Lexology
- July 27, 2017: ADA Web Accessibility Regulatory Processes Now “Inactive”, EDUCAUSE Review
- July 31, 2017: DOJ Disables Titles II and III Website Regulations, National Law Review
- August 2, 2017: Businesses continue to face uncertainty, litigation risk in the wake of DOJ’s “inactive” web accessibility rulemaking, Consumer Finance Monitor
- August 17, 2017: What Does The Unified Agenda “Inactive List” Mean to ADA, 504 and 508 Compliance Efforts?, Brailleworks
- August 22, 2017: Website Accessibility Lawsuit Filings Still Going Strong, Seyfarth Shaw
- October 31, 2017: Over 60 legislators support CUNA call for website ADA guidance, Credit Union National Association
- December 14, 2017: ADA Website Accessibility Lawsuits Increase Amidst Lack of DOJ Compliance Guidelines, Law.com
Winn Dixie, Dominoes Web Accessibility Decisions Get the Spotlight as Web Accessibility Lawsuits Rise
In the absence of DOJ rulemaking, different court decisions made web accessibility “tea leaf reading” a bit tricky. According to Poytner, “Since the beginning of 2015, at least 750 website accessibility lawsuits have been filed in federal court, with at least 432 cases filed in the first eight and a half months of 2017.”
Of the ones this year (Dick Blick, Warby Parker, GrubHub, and many, many more), two decisions that generated a lot of commentary were Robles v. Dominos Pizza LLC, which was dismissed, and the oft-labeled historic Gil v. Winn Dixie Civil Action No. 16 -23020-Civ-Scola, which said yes, websites must be accessible for organizations deemed public accomodations:
- March 24, 2017: Federal Court in Los Angeles Dismisses Website Accessibility Claims, Lexology
- March 26, 2017: Court Relies on Due Process Argument to Dismiss Website Accessibility Suit, ADA Law Access
- June 20, 2017: Civil Rights Lawyer Scott R. Dinin Wins Landmark Historic Ruling as Federal Judge Rules Winn-Dixie Stores Must Make their Website Accessible to the Disabled, PR Web
- June 22, 2017: Retailers’ websites must comply with Americans with Disabilities Act, court rules, Columbus Dispatch
- June 23, 2017: Winn-Dixie case may compel retailers to make their websites ADA compliant, Food Dive (See also Chain Store Age)
- June 26, 2017: Don’t Get Caught Whistling Winn-Dixie: Rethinking ADA Compliance After First-of-its-Kind Verdict, Lexology
- June 28, 2017: Plaintiffs Score Another Victory in a Website Accessibility Lawsuit, Seyfarth Shaw
- July 18, 2017: The ADA, Websites and the Decision in Robles v. Dominos Pizza LLC, Lexology
- August 7, 2017: Two New York Federal Judges Refuse to Dismiss Website Accessibility Cases, Seyfarth Shaw
- October 3, 2017: Lawyers awarded $100K for their work on historic verdict; Winn-Dixie appealing, Legal News Line
- November 1, 2017: Website Accessibility—the Emerging Trend Under the ADA, Law.com
Uber Struggles with Wheelchair Transport and Equitable Services
Internationally, the smartphone-enabled ride hailing service, found itself ping-ponging between accessibility and inaccessibility across various aspects of its business. From its apps to its services to its vehicles, its service, or lack thereof, to people with disabilities put Uber in the hot seat more often than not.
- January 5, 2017, Uber slow to fix wheelchair-accessibility woes, Chicago Tribune
- February 14, 2017, Austin ridesharing lawsuit over blind user access nears resolution, Austin Business Journal
- April 19, 2017: UberASSIST: Improving accessibility in Hong Kong, Uber blog
- May 10, 2017: Uber faces lawsuit for failing on disabled accessibility, Engadget
- May 11, 2017: Uber partners with U.S. city for first time to offer rides to seniors, disabled, LA Business Journal
- May 17, 2017: Uber’s Deregulated Business Violates Equality Law, Newsweek
- June 28, 2017: C. Rights Group Sues Uber Over Lack Of Wheelchair Access, WAMU American University. See also Washington Post
- July 1, 2017 : Does Uber Have A Handicap When It Comes To Serving The Disabled?, Benzinga
- July 6, 2017: Uber and Lyft’s wheelchair access grows, with room to improve, Philly.com and BizPhilly and Metro
- July 9, 2017: No wheelchair-accessible Uber fleet coming for Ottawa, CBC Canada
- July 14, 2017: Uber’s wheelchair-accessible UberACCESS service launches in four new UK markets, The Next Web- UK
- July 18, 2017: Uber faces another lawsuit due to a lack of wheelchair-accessible rides, TechCrunch. See also Reuters, Financial Buzz, Recode, Mashable, and NY Times
- July 20, 2017: Uber app now allows wheelchair users to summon rides, Chicago Tribune. See also The Drive
- September 29, 2017 : Uber will teach you sign language to better communicate with deaf drivers, The Verge
Uber featured quite heavily this year. For more accessibility-related news on Uber, simply search “Uber” on the Microassist website.
Travel Apps Make Finding Accessibility Services Easier
Getting from one place to another is just one aspect of enjoying any travel location, and taxi services aren’t the only services affected. What about public transportation, or the retailers and restaurants you actually visit? Several apps, including Google maps, aimed to point travelers, commuters, and students with disabilities to accessible locations and services.
- March 6, 2017: People with Disabilities Now Have Their Own Relevant Version of Yelp, Mashable
- April 13, 2017: ‘Is it Gabe friendly?’ A push to make the city’s restaurants more accessible, Insider Louisville
- April 20, 2017: Occupational Therapist Spends Birthday Making Travel Accessible, PR Leap
- May 12, 2017: MS student McCarthy enhances campus accessibility through new web app, University of Illinois
- June 30, 2017: The app that will tell you out loud when your bus is coming, Daily Echo- UK
- July 6, 2017: Google makes it easier to add and find accessibility information in Maps and Search, 9to5Google. See also Business Insider and CNET
- July 6, 2017: Building a map for everyone, Google blog
- July 7, 2017: MBTA to test new way to help blind find bus stops, Boston Globe
- July 8, 2017: BillionAbles app will help find accessible places for disabled people: Indian Express
- July 28, 2017: Siri, Show Me What’s Disability-Friendly in China, Sixth Tone- China
- August 8, 2017: Only with your help can Google Maps build a better map for everyone, TechRadar
- August 31, 2017: Google won’t answer woman who wants wheelchair friendly maps, Metro- UK
- September 7, 2017: Google calls on Local Guides to add wheelchair info to Maps, SlashGear. See also Fortune and Mashable
- September 11, 2017: Google Gets Serious About Mapping Wheelchair Accessibility, CityLab
- September 13, 2017: Yonge and St. Clair moves toward full accessibility for the blind, Inside Toronto- Canada
- October 1, 2017: A world first initiative to help build a more accessible NZ, Scoop- New Zealand
- December 12, 2017: Google Maps-inspired app could revolutionise the way wheelchair users get around, ABC Online- Australia
Google’s Accessibility Services Opens Doors to Security Vulnerabilities
While application development provided vital accessibility information to those with disabilities, the accessibility services features used on Google device applications left a back door open to ne’er do wells. In an attempt to tighten security, Google cracked down on developers using its accessibility services for non-accessibility-related functionality.
- August 2, 2017: This Android banking malware steals data by exploiting smartphone accessibility services, ZDNet. See also Naked Security
- August 4, 2017: Invisible Man malware lifts banking credentials by abusing Android accessibility services, Graham Cluely
- August 23, 2017: Google Play Store Security Scans Tricked by …Sigh… In-Dev Malware, Bleeping Computer
- August 27, 2017: Google Play Store Affected by More Malware Apps, One Red Drop
- November 11, 2017: Google Play to developers: Use Accessibility Service properly or be removed, Ausdroid
- November 12, 2017: Google will remove Play Store apps that use Accessibility Services for anything except helping disabled users, Android Police
- November 13, 2017: Android security: Google cracks down on apps that want to use accessibility services, ZDNet
- November 14, 2017: Google is Threatening to Remove Apps with Accessibility Services from the Play Store, xda
- December 7, 2017: Google temporarily pauses ban of apps using Accessibility Services, Android Central
- December 11, 2017: Google puts 30-day hold on plans to ban use of Android Accessibility Services, The Inquirer
New Technologies and Innovations from Industry Giants and Lesser Known, Remarkable, Creators
Refreshable Braille tablets. Driverless cars. Wearables. The telecommunications capabilities now available to us have enabled smart “Aria” glasses for the blind to be coupled with live guides talking through a transmitted video feed provided by the glasses wearer. A journalist paralyzed for more than twenty years uses a high-tech exoskeleton to walk, new glasses enable a man born without optic nerves to read the abundance of text in his environment, and accessible computer applications provide a voice to a young college author and presenter with cerebral palsy. Innovation never ceased in 2017. The potential for additional product and service advancements is truly remarkable.
- Summer 2017: AT&T Celebrates All Who Experience More, Webwire. See also AT&T
- June 7, 2017: The Holy Braille Tablet Could Totally Change How Blind People Consume Information, Huffington Post (Video)
- June 8, 2017: Hi-tech, Low-cost Gift to the Blind, Moneylife – India
- July 12, 2017: Microsoft’s New iPhone App Helps Blind People ‘See’ What’s Around Them, Time. See also iTunes Download and Mobile Id World
- July 19, 2017: Dream the accessible dream: Developer pushes the boundaries of innovation in pursuit of independence, Geek Wire
- July 31, 2017: This Nike Engineer Hopes Her Marty McFly Sneaker Will Break Down Accessibility Barriers, Brit + Co
- August 1, 2017: Microsoft will use Tobii’s eye tracking to make Windows 10 more accessible, Venture Beat. See also ARS Technica
- August 3, 2017: Teenage Whiz Kid Invents an AI System to Diagnose Her Grandfather’s Eye Disease, IEEE
- September 24, 2017: Wearable assistive technology will hit the runway at Invictus showcase, Toronto Star- Canada
- October 27, 2017: Me and my robotic suit, Reuters
- October 30, 2017: Seeing a difference, new technology OrCam MyEye gives the blind freedom, ABC2 News
- November 15, 2017: Microsoft using AI to empower people living with disabilities, ZDNet
- November 21, 2017: Microsoft’s Seeing AI app shows how cutting-edge technology can empower the blind, Techly- Australia
- November 25, 2017: Driverless cars promise far greater mobility for the elderly and people with disabilities, Hamilton Spectator- Canada
- There’s more! Search “Innovation” on the Microassist website to see the Accessibility in the News issues with more of these incredible stories!
Education Organization Websites Targeted for OCR Complaints
In addition to the rise in legal actions against businesses, there’s been an increase in Department of Education Office of Civil Rights complaints filed against K-12 and institutions of higher education for inaccessible websites and technology.
- January 12, 2017: A Look at K-12 Web Accessibility Resolution Agreements, Cielo 24
- February 21, 2017: Palo Alto school website violates disability act, advocate says, The Mercury News
- February 24, 2017: Websites under scrutiny for compliance with disabilities act, MLive
- May 10, 2017: Pared down school websites re-launched, Richmond Times Dispatch
- May 16, 2017: Reduce the Risk of a Department of Education Investigation Regarding Website Accessibility, Ice Miller
- May 17, 2017: Disability advocate pushing for school districts’ websites to be ADA compliant, Fox News
- June 28, 2017: UISD will update website to address complaints alleging inaccessibility, Laredo Morning Times
- July 8, 2017: Is your website accessible to deaf and blind people? University World News
- August 9, 2017: Spokane schools swept up in nationwide barrage of ADA website accessibility complaints, The Spokesman Review
- October 5, 2017: Rural schools struggling to make websites ADA compliant, Great Falls Tribune
- November 14, 2017: Steps You Can Take now to Address Web Accessibility at Your Institution, Online Learning Consortium
- November 27, 2017: Ithaca College makes required accessibility renovations, The Ithacan
- November 28, 2017: OCR Website Accessibility Complaints Hit Schools and Universities, Microassist
- There’s more! Search “OCR” on the Microassist website for these and related stories.
Section 508 Refresh Incorporates WCAG 2.0
On January 18, 2017, the United States Access Board updated the nearly 20-year-old, static accessibility standards within Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. The “refresh” incorporated Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 by reference, aligning the federal government standard for accessibility more closely with the web accessibility guidelines developed by the World Wide Web Consortium. These guidelines take effect in January 2018.
- January 13, 2017: Understanding Compliance for ADA and Section 508 Regulations, HealthStream
- January 13, 2017: WCAG 2.0 AA Gains Prominence as Website Accessibility Standard, National Law Review
- January 17, 2017: New IT accessibility rules catch up to 17 years of changes, Federal News Radio
- January 19, 2017: About the Update of the Section 508 Standards and Section 255 Guidelines for Information and Communication Technology
- January 19, 2017: Section 508 refresh (Part 1), The Paciello Group
- January 19, 2017: New Regulation Setting Federal Agency Website Standard Published, Setting Compliance Deadline, Seyfarth Shaw
- January 26, 2017: Government regulations: Sometimes the feds get it absolutely right, Star Tribune
- February 3, 2017: New Baseline for Accessibility, Inside Higher Ed
- February 7, 2017: Section 508 and Game-based Learning – a Disability Mismatch?
- February 17, 2017: At last, The Refresh of Section 508 by Debra Ruh and Rosemary Musachio, Huffington Post
- February 22, 2017: Section 508 and WCAG: What’s Changed for Federal Government Website Accessibility Requirements? Microassist
- March 21, 2017: Section 508 refresh seeks digital access to all, GCN
- August 21, 2017: How does the refreshed Section 508 rule affect your agency?
- November 20, 2017: Section 508 Gets an Update: New Web Accessibility Guidelines for Government Sites Take Effect in January, Government Technology
Refresh Wanted for the International Symbol of Access
The accessibility icon has been in place for 40 years. Does it need a refresh, too?
- March 27, 2017: FM Alert: Guidance On International Symbol of Accessibility, Facility Executive
- April 20, 2017: Accessible Icon Update: New Federal Guidance Deepens Quandary for Businesses Facing Contradictory State Requirements, Seyfarth Shaw
- April 26, 2017: Critics of new ‘dynamic’ disability symbol not just anti-PC cranks: Teitel, The Star- Canada
- May 4, 2017: Is it Time for a New Accessibility Logo? Public Works
- May 19, 2017: Businesses Face Conflicting State and Federal Accessibility Requirements, National Law Review
- July 11, 2017: Old National has a petition to support efforts to change the handicap sign, Dubois County Free Press
- July 20, 2017: Accessibility signs in line for an update, Fort Wayne Journal Gazette
- August 29, 2017: Advocates call for governments, businesses in Canada to use dynamic accessibility symbol, Globalnews- Canada
- October 18, 2017: Oshawa mom says it’s time to replace accessibility symbol with a more active image, Durham Region- Canada
- December 7, 2017: Symbolism is everything as Toronto moves to implement new accessibility symbol, MetroNews- Canada
Ultra-Accessible Texas Water Park Gets National Attention
Being Austin-based and Texas-bred, many of us here at Microassist have a soft spot for our neighbor to the south. Soft spot or not, however, San Antonio got national attention this summer for the first-of-its-kind, fully accessible splash park. Together with Dollywood’s Splash Country (Tennessee) and Sand Castle Waterpark (England), Texas’s Morgan’s Inspiration Island advanced the summer entertainment options available to families and individuals with disabilities.
- June 15, 2017: Water park For Those With Special Needs Set To Open, Disability Scoop. See also KVUE, Time, Daily Star, Bustle, and Good News
- July 6, 2017 : Father creates special water park named after his daughter, CBS News
- July 19, 2017: Splash Country brings new level of accessibility to waterpark, USA Today
- August 2, 2017: San Antonio is becoming the nation’s go to tourist destination, eTurboNews
- August 9, 2017: Inspired by daughter, dad builds water park for people with disabilities, CNN
- August 17, 2017: In the Interest of Greater Accessibility, White Water West blog
- October 12, 2017: Sand Castle Waterpark Outstanding Accessibility and First Class customer service, Trip Advisor Review
We had several runners up, such as the ‘Cure Period’ legislation that is intended to provide an opportunity for business owners to fix accessibility issues before being taken to court and the University of California at Berkeley’s removal of thousands of inaccessible videos (a carryover from 2016 news and DOJ decisions), but I’m sure you also have some ideas of high-impact accessibility stories.
If so, what were they? Comment below. I’d love to hear what struck a chord with you in 2017, and what you expect to see around the bend.
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Wishing you all the best in 2018,
Editor’s note: This edition of Accessibility in the News was originally published following the initial activity in the Gil v. Winn-Dixie case. The case is back in the headlines following the decision of an appeal filed on behalf of Winn-Dixie. For the latest news around this and other cases referenced above visit our Accessibility in the News, Legal Edition archives.