Accessibility in the News—7/27/18.
I just spent a week with my 2 ¾ months old granddaughter, so I had a little downtime during her naps to do some year-to-date calculations. There has been lots of news coverage in Accessibility in the News (AITN) in the last six months and my curation consisted of 637 national news articles, 502 international news articles, 640 accessibility blogs-information, 614 accessibility training and conferences, 480 accessibility job opportunities, 466 accessibility pages, 584 accessibility announcements-products, and 371 accessibility Q&A and tips.
That amounts to a year-to-date total of 4,294 bits of information shared in AITN.
Thank you to all of the AITN subscribers for all of your support throughout the year. Special thanks to all of the subscribers that have contributed various articles, blogs, and announcements each week. Big thanks to the Microassist team, Vivian, Liam, and Sean, for all of your help throughout the year.
This week, Accessibility in the News reviews the stories that garnered significant news coverage from January to June. As with last year’s top ten collection, it’s a mix: Tech industry leaders are paving the way for inclusive work, play, and living environments enhanced through digital access. Educational website accessibility has been wrapped up in civil rights dismissals. Notable apps are championing access from different angles. Lawsuits in the financial sector and transportation abound.
Here are Our Top 10 Accessibility News Stories and Topics for the First Half of 2018.
Each of these ten subjects solidly earned their place as one of the top Accessibility in the News topics this first half of 2018, laying quite the stage for the rest of the year:
- H.R. 620: The ADA Education and Reform Act Rises and Stalls
- Google Maps Introduces Wheelchair-Accessible Transit Routes
- Apple-Proposed Emoji Characters Represent Accessibility and Disability
- WCAG 2.1 Debuts
- Accessibility Lawsuits Pummel Credit Unions, Association Fights Back
- Airbnb Filters Aim to Inform, Ease Travel for People with Disabilities
- Visuals-Heavy Pinterest Revamped to Be Accessible to Blind and Visually Impaired
- Uber and MTA Lawsuits Spotlight Lack of Accessibility in Transportation
- Microsoft Unleashes a Slew of Accessibility Initiatives Affecting Windows 10, AI, Xbox
- OCR Dismisses Hundreds of Complaints; Finds Itself Subject of Lawsuit
H.R. 620: The ADA Education and Reform Act Rises and Stalls
H.R.620, also known as the “ADA Education and Reform Act of 2017” made big news early this year when it passed through the U.S. House of Representatives. The bill was introduced back in the beginning of 2017 by Texas Representative Ted Poe, and it aimed to change several key details of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Under the reformed ADA, people with disabilities would be required to file an official complaint stating that a building is not accessible before they could take any legal action against the building’s owner. The idea behind the bill was to protect owners and operators from excessive litigation. Disability rights advocates claimed the bill was a step backward and would delay progress in facilitating access that is often sorely needed. The bill stalled in the Senate after Senator Tammy Duckworth of Illinois gathered 43 senate votes to filibuster any attempt to vote on the bill.
- February 13, 2018: House Members Are Pushing a Bill That Will Roll Back the Rights of People With Disabilities – ACLU
- February 13, 2018: HR 620 – Myths And Truths About The ADA Education And Reform Act – ACLU
- February 13, 2018: Disability Advocates Protest New Bill Weakening Americans With Disabilities Act – The Mighty
- February 14, 2018: Why Congress Is Close To Gutting a Key Provision Of The ADA – Pacific Standard
- February 16, 2018: Paralyzed Veterans of America Deeply Disappointed in House Passage of H.R. 620 – PR Newswire
- February 22, 2018: The GOP’s H.R. 620 will gut the Americans With Disabilities Act, pushing disability rights back to 1989 – NBC News
- February 22, 2018: House Passes Changes to Title III of the ADA – Duane Morris LLP
- February 26, 2018: H.R. 620 violates basic, human rights of accessibility – The Daily Texan
- March 29, 2018: – The American Prospect
- April 3, 2018: Senator Tammy Duckworth Saves the Americans With Disabilities Act—For Now – Rewire.News
- April 6, 2018: Proposed rollback of Americans with Disabilities Act is permanently stalled – The Architect Newspaper
Google Maps Introduces Wheelchair-Accessible Transit Routes
Last year, Google launched a new feature on Google Maps that allowed users to report whether locations were accessible by choosing from a series of attributes. The accessibility attributes included: wheelchair-accessible entrances, wheelchair-accessible elevators, wheelchair-accessible seating, and wheelchair-accessible parking (See Google’s Original Post Here). The idea was to create a database of crowdsourced accessibility information to make Google Maps more user friendly for people with disabilities. This March, Google used the collected data to create a wheelchair accessible option for public transit. For now, the feature is only available in large metropolitan centers such as New York, Tokyo, London, Mexico City, Sydney, and Boston. However, Google aims to add more cities in the coming months.
- March 15, 2018: Introducing “wheelchair accessible” routes in transit navigation – Google
- March 15, 2018: Google adds wheelchair-accessible routes to Google Maps – Digital Trends
- March 15, 2018: Google adds a wheelchair-accessible option for transit maps – Tech Crunch
- March 16, 2018: Google Maps Adds Wheelchair Accessible Navigation Options – Architectural Digest
- March 18, 2018: These Google employees used their ’20 percent’ time to improve Maps for people in wheelchairs – CNBC
Apple-Proposed Emoji Characters Represent Accessibility and Disability
Apple made news earlier this year by proposing 13 new accessibility emojis to The Unicode Consortium. Apple suggested emojis that include a guide dog, a hearing aid, a prosthetic arm and leg, sign language, a person in a wheelchair (mechanical and manual), and a person with a cane. The Unicode Consortium is a non-profit organization that provides the numerical coding for all letters, numbers, characters, and emojis to make sure they can be used across all operating systems in all countries. Unicode has the final say on which emojis are accepted, but Apple submitted a strong proposal. The official proposal can be accessed here (PDF).
- March 23, 2018: Prosthetics, Guide Dogs and Wheelchairs: Here Come Apple’s Proposed Accessibility Emoji – Yahoo
- March 23, 2018: Get ready for emoji guide dogs, prosthetic limbs, and wheelchairs: Apple proposes 13 new characters for people with disabilities – The Daily Mail
- March 23, 2018: From service dogs to a prosthetic arm, Apple proposes 13 disability emojis – CNN
- March 26, 2018: Apple proposes a new range of ‘accessibility emoji’ including prosthetic limbs and hearing aids – Mirror
- March 27, 2018: Apple Throws Support Behind Disability Emojis – Disability Scoop
- March 29, 2018: Apple Announces Accessibility Emojis And We, For One, Are Delighted – Rights Info
WCAG 2.1 Debuts
In June, The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) released an updated version of their Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 (WCAG 2.0) which had been released back in 2008. WCAG 2.1, ten years in the making, provides developers with new industry standards on accessibility. Since WCAG 2.0 version was created, technology has advanced significantly, most notably regarding smart phones. With mobile web browsing now being a part of our everyday lives, the W3C made sure to include details on mobile apps, touchscreens, and mobile browsers.
- June 5, 2018: W3C Issues Improved Accessibility Guidance for Websites and Applications – W3C
- June 7, 2018: World Wide Web Publishes Expanded Web Accessibility Guidelines – JD Supra
- June 8, 2018: June 8, 2018: The Generally Prevailing Website Accessibility Guidelines Have Been Refreshed – It’s Time to Officially Welcome WCAG 2.1 – National Law Review
- June 14, 2018: Viewpoint: New web standards give way to old advice… make sure your product works – Business Journal
- June 25, 2018: Is your website ADA-compliant? Avoid becoming a litigation target – Miami Herald
- June 26, 2018: A breath of fresh air: Web Content Accessibility Guidelines updated – JD Supra
Accessibility Lawsuits Pummel Credit Unions, Association Fights Back
Last year, credit unions around the United States began seeing lawsuits for lack of website accessibility. This issue brought about a heated debate on whether companies should be protected from this sort of “drive-by lawsuit” in which one law firm and one plaintiff file suits against multiple companies at once, hoping to get some companies to settle. For credit unions specifically, another factor that affects whether cases move forward is the eligibility of litigants for membership at the credit union in question. The National Association of Federal Credit Unions (NAFCU) has been aggressive in defending many of its members against website accessibility legal actions and calling for the federal government to clarify requirements. With the laws on what is required under the ADA for website accessibility being vague, judicial decisions vary from institution to institution as there is no solid legal framework. However, one thing is certain, change is needed in website accessibility and the laws that protect it.
- January 5, 2018: ADA Lawsuits Against CUs Spike in December – Credit Union Times
- January 29, 2018: Federal judge dismisses ADA suit against credit union – Credit Union Journal
- June 8, 2018: BECU will restore accessibility for blind customers to its website and mobile banking app – The Seattle Times
- June 21, 2018: NAFCU files 13th amicus in support of CU as ADA suit reaches appeals court – CU Insight
- June 26, 2018: Members of Congress Urge DOJ to Declare That Private Website Accessibility Lawsuits Violate Due Process – Seyfarth Shaw
- June 26, 2018: Ohio, Alabama Judges Follow Virginia Courts & Toss Out ADA Cases – Credit Union Times
- July 5, 2018: NAFCU files second appellate defending Northwest Federal Credit Union, 14th ADA-related Amicus brief – CU Insight
- July 24, 2018- 19 state AGs write Sessions sharing CUNA’s ADA concerns– CUNA
Airbnb Filters Aim to Inform, Ease Travel for People with Disabilities
Last year, Airbnb bought a small startup called Accomable. Accomable’s website provided people with disabilities an easier way to travel by connecting travelers to verified accessible properties. Accomable was started by Srin Madipalli, who now works on accessibility for Airbnb. Airbnb had taken heat from disabled clients for not providing such options in the past. With the purchase of Accomable, Airbnb showed their customers that not only had they heard the complaints, but they wanted to fix what was wrong with their service. This spring, Airbnb added 21 new filters for guests with disabilities to make finding accessible accommodations easier. All 21 features are listed here, along with Airbnb’s original statement.
- March 15, 2018: Airbnb’s new filters aim to improve searches for guests with disabilities – Digital Trends
- March 15, 2018: Airbnb makes service more accessible to people with disabilities – Tech Crunch
- March 20, 2018: Airbnb Rolls Out New Features For Those With Disabilities – Disability Scoop
- May 7, 2018: Airbnb aims to make travel more accessible for people with disabilities – CTV News
- May 21, 2018: Airbnb aims to make travel more accessible for the disabled – The Post and Courier
Visuals-Heavy Pinterest Revamped to Be Accessible to Blind and Visually Impaired
On April 25, Pinterest published a press release outlining their plan to make their website and app more accessible to blind and visually impaired users. Pinterest teamed up with Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired to help better determine how to make their product more accessible. The initial press release promised improvement in screen reading support to make every aspect of the site easier to use. For colorblind and low vision readers, they have changed color contrast sensitivity, and for users using keyboards or other devices to navigate the site they have added focus indicators. Additionally, Pinterest posted a list of design tips for developers and designers to help others make website improvements similar to theirs.
- April 25, 2018: 5 things Pinterest changed to make its app better for people who are blind – Mashable
- April 25, 2018: Pinterest Just Redesigned Its App For Blind People – Fast Company
- April 26, 2018: Pinterest made its app more accessible to the visually impaired – Engadget
- April 27, 2018: Pinterest focuses on diversity and accessibility – Mobile Marketing
- April 30, 2018: Pinterest introduces new features for visually impaired users – Wersm
Uber, Lyft, and MTA Lawsuits Spotlight Lack of Accessibility in Transportation
Two lawsuits have had a big impact on transportation accessibility this year, and both happened within a couple of weeks of each other. First, the non-profit Disability Rights Advocates (DRA) sued Uber, stating that the company doesn’t provide sufficient service for customers using wheelchairs. This lawsuit was later followed by another suit by DRA directed at Uber’s competitor, Lyft, addressing the same grievance. The other big lawsuit in the transit world was directed at New York City’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA). This suit, which was brought on by federal prosecutors, claimed that the MTA is refusing to adhere to the ADA when renovating subway stations. The suit focuses on one station in particular. That station received a $27 million renovation in 2014, but is still inaccessible to travelers in wheelchairs. The MTA has since released a plan to install elevators in more stations, and hired an accessibility officer to oversee improvements.
- February 27, 2018: Group files class-action suit against Uber for ‘discrimination,’ lack of wheelchair access – San Francisco Examiner
- March 5, 2018: Wheelchair users sue Uber – Curbed
- March 13, 2018: MTA sued by feds over lack of subway accessibility – Curbed
- March 13, 2018: M.T.A. Violated Law Omitting Elevators in Station Upgrade, Prosecutors Say – The New York Times
- March 13, 2018: Lyft faces discrimination lawsuit – Tech Crunch
- March 14, 2018: Wheelchair users sue Lyft too – Curbed
Microsoft Unleashes a Slew of Accessibility Initiatives Affecting Windows 10, AI, Xbox
With accessibility being brought to the forefront of technology, Microsoft is doing its best to lead the charge. This year has been no exception. Starting in March, Microsoft announced it will be adding new accessibility features to Windows 10. In their press release, Microsoft underlined all the features they will be adding, such as narrator improvements, eye control improvements, reading and writing improvements, and assistive technology improvements. In May, to further their investment in accessibility, Microsoft invested $25 million to a new program called “AI for Accessibility.” This program pledges funds for developers, government, and others who create AI-based accessibility solutions. Lastly, in attempt to make gaming more accessible, Xbox announced an adaptive controller for players with disabilities. The controller, which is targeted to gamers with limited mobility, has large programmable buttons and 19 ports for different peripheral attachments. The devices will be available for sale in September.
- March 19, 2018: Upcoming Windows 10 accessibility features include Narrator upgrades – Engadget
- March 19, 2018: Microsoft is adding a bunch of accessibility features to Windows 10 – Tech Crunch
- May 7, 2018: Microsoft wants to use AI to help people with disabilities – Engadget
- May 7, 2018: Microsoft invests $25 million in AI for accessibility developer program – Venture Beat
- May 17, 2018: Microsoft’s Xbox Adaptive Controller helps players with disabilities game more comfortably – PC World
- June 11, 2018: Microsoft’s Xbox accessibility controller is available for pre-order – Engadget
- June 14, 2018: Hands-on: How Microsoft’s Xbox Adaptive Controller lets gamers with disabilities play – PC World
OCR Dismisses Hundreds of Complaints; Finds Itself Subject of Lawsuit
In March, the United States Department of Education’s (DOE) Office for Civil Rights (OCR) announced that they were implementing a new “case processing manual (PDF)” that would allow the Office to dismiss complaints not adhering to the new rules. The DOE stated it was a strain on their resources to review complaints filed against multiple recipients by a single filer, filed by multiple people against the same organization, or filed without addressing all necessary information. This has already led to the dismissal of hundreds of complaints. Disability and civil rights advocates did not take these actions lightly. The NAACP, the National Federation of the Blind, and the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates sued the DOE. Malik Russell a spokesperson for the NAACP stated, “Betsy DeVos and the Department of Education have determined that civil rights no longer matter. They’ve decided to abandon DOE’s Office of Civil Rights responsibility to investigate racial, gender or disability discrimination complaints.”
- March 22, 2018: New Guidelines Let Civil Rights Office Ignore Cases From Serial Complainers – Education Week
- April 4, 2018: Changes to the Case Processing for Complaints Filed with the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights – Phillips Lytle
- April 17, 2018: Changes to Office for Civil Rights’ New Case Processing Manual: What You Need to Know – JD Supra
- April 18, 2018: A Civil Rights Activist Filed Thousands of Disability Complaints. Now the Education Department Is Trying to Shut Her Down – T74
- April 20, 2018: DeVos Education Dept. Begins Dismissing Civil Rights Cases in Name of Efficiency – The New York Times
- May 22, 2018: Betsy DeVos Grilled About Not Knowing the Mission of Her Own Civil Rights Office During House Questioning – Newsweek
- May 31, 2018: Disability and Civil Rights Groups Sue DeVos Over Investigation Rollbacks – The New York Times
- May 31, 2018: Civil rights groups sue Education Dept over provision on dismissing civil rights complaints – The Hill
- June 3, 2018: Betsy DeVos and the Department of Education Get Sued for Abandoning Discrimination Complaints – The Root
What Topic Would You Add to this “Top Accessibility News” List?
I curate each week’s news items personally and enjoy sharing what I read each week with you.
Did we miss a notable event between January and June? Is there something you would add as a significant new item in this first half of 2018? Share it with others interested in accessibility issues by leaving a comment.
Likewise, tell me what you think will be a top 10 accessibility news topic in the next six months. We’d love to hear your thoughts.
Here’s to the rest of 2018!
“Just because a man lacks the use of his eyes doesn’t mean he lacks vision.” – Stevie Wonder
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