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Digital Accessibility Year in Review: 2019

Dec 27, 2019

Digital accessibility continues to pick up steam with more organizations realizing its value and more individuals developing awareness and expertise every day. Reflecting on all that has transpired in 2019 makes it clear that accessibility will keep trending up, perhaps leading to an even more eventful 2020, which is almost hard to imagine.

Here's a snapshot of this past year in digital accessibility.

Lawsuits went mainstream

The surge in digital accessibility lawsuits over the past few years is something those in the industry — and certainly those who were sued or issued a demand letter — are well aware of, but in 2019 accessibility lawsuits caught the public eye more than probably ever before.

Increased public awareness can most likely be attributed to household names being on the receiving end of accessibility lawsuits, leading to more coverage than usual in mainstream media.

There are a number to choose from; here are just two that received widespread attention this year.

Beyonce's website the focus of an accessibility lawsuit

There are few bigger names than Beyonce, and in the beginning of 2019 we reported that her company, Parkwood Entertainment, was being sued over allegations that her official website is not accessible and is thus in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

The lawsuit specifies that the "access barriers that prevent free and full use... include, but are not limited to: lack of alt-text on graphics, inaccessible drop-down menus, the lack of navigation links, the lack of adequate prompting and labeling, the denial of keyboard access, empty links that contain no text, redundant links where adjacent links go to the same URL address, and the requirement that transactions be performed solely with a mouse."

Domino's accessibility case had plenty of twists and turns

Early in 2019, a Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversal of a lower court's decision to dismiss a web accessibility case against Domino's meant that the accessibility lawsuit could continue. The case alleges that the Domino's website and app weren't accessible.

The court's opinion clarified that the ADA applies to websites and apps, and that websites have to be accessible even though the ADA doesn't specify by which standards. The opinion's summary clarified more specifically:

"The Act mandates that places of public accommodation, like Domino's, provide auxiliary aids and services to make visual materials available to individuals who are blind. Even though customers primarily accessed the website and app away from Domino's physical restaurants, the panel stated that the ADA applies to the services of a public accommodation, not services in a place of public accommodation. The panel stated that the website and app connected customers to the goods and services of Domino's physical restaurants."

The pizza company then asked the Supreme Court to hear the case. In October, the Supreme Court denied the petition to hear the case. By the Supreme Court placing the case on its "CERTIORARI DENIED" list, the Ninth Circuit's opinion would remain the latest precedent.

Many people questioned how Domino's approached their defense, seemingly by trying to invalidate the longstanding precedent that the ADA covers websites and apps.

Senators continued to ask DOJ for standards

The Department of Justice has continued to affirm that the ADA applies to websites, but those looking for the DOJ to prescribe formal accessibility standards will have to keep waiting.

On July 30, Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley, joined by six other senators, sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Barr asking for clarity on how the ADA extends to websites. Their position is that specific guidance provided by the federal government will increase web accessibility and "stem the tide of abusive litigation," according to Senator Grassley's press statement.

Specifically, they requested written responses to these questions:

  1. Since our letter of September 4, 2018, what specific steps has the Department taken to help resolve uncertainty regarding website accessibility requirements under the ADA? What additional steps does the Department intend to take, and by what date?
  2. Does the Department consider WCAG 2.0 an acceptable compliance standard for the public under Title III of the ADA? Why or why not?
  3. As with the regulations implementing Section 508, does the Department agree that consideration should be given to the resources available to a business or member of the public seeking to ensure website accessibility? Why or why not?
  4. Has the Department considered intervening in pending litigation to provide clarity on these issues, or to push back against any identified litigation abuses? Why or why not?

While the country waits for further action or inaction, it's expected that people will continue to defend their civil rights on their own through litigation. As shown in recent legal cases, the lack of a specific set of guidelines in the ADA doesn't negate the responsibility of website owners to provide accessible web experiences.

U.K. regulations went into effect for public sector sites

Accessibility expansion is a global, albeit overdue, phenomenon.

As of September 23, 2019, all new public sector websites in the U.K. and any published after September 23, 2018, must be accessible.

Minister for Implementation, Simon Hart, said:

"This is another positive step in our longstanding commitment to ensuring digital services are accessible for all users and to encourage improved equality of access to public information and services.

Although directly impacting the public sector, the regulations provide a necessary reminder for all organisations to consider the needs of all users when building online services."

Mandatory compliance with the law, which includes required accessibility statements, goes into effect for older websites on September 23, 2020, and June 23, 2021 for mobile apps.

2020 presidential candidates' websites came up short

Originally made publicly-known by testing from the Miami Lighthouse for the Blind, not a single 2020 presidential candidate's website is fully accessible to people with disabilities (this is accurate as of June 2019 and the Bureau of Internet Accessibility (BoIA) has not tested candidates' websites).

Mark Shapiro, BoIA president, put it into perspective this way:

"When Americans are prevented from researching presidential candidates due to unnecessary accessibility barriers, the information that people receive and the votes they ultimately cast are altered by discrimination on the basis of disability."

He added, "The Americans with Disabilities Act is supposed to ensure this type of scenario never happens; but, at the moment, not only are individual rights being violated, the future of our country is quite literally being shaped by the unfortunate and unnecessary inaccessibility of public digital information."

Assistive technology grew, with bigger boom on the way

Assistive technology is an amazingly broad category, but nonetheless it's safe to say that there was massive energy behind some of its advancements this year.

Startups are raising millions in funding and incredible technology is being developed for a gigantic range of accessibility needs and preferences, from prosthetic limbs to adaptive skateboarding.

The global assistive technology market is projected to grow rapidly in the next few years, reaching $26 - $31 billion by 2024. The World Health Organization estimates that by 2030, 2 billion people will require access to at least one assistive technology. Currently, only 10% of people with disabilities have access to the technology they need.

Accessible gaming was prioritized

So often, accessibility is thought of in the context of what people need to do, and video games probably don't fall into that category in most people's minds. However, things like video games bring stress-relief, fun, passion, and even career opportunities, and advancements in that area this year highlight just a bit that accessibility isn't about meeting the bare minimum someone could get by with, but using technology to truly provide equal access.

Here are a few of the ways gaming was made more accessible, or accessibility was made more fun, in 2019:

BoIA launched 24/7 accessibility line for clients' websites

The Bureau of Internet Accessibility realizes that even after the most extensive testing and remediation, nothing can be 100% accessible to 100% of people 100% of the time, so this year we launched a service for our clients' websites that allows their visitors to resolve accessibility issues in real-time, 24/7.

BoIA president, Mark Shapiro, says, "Every effort is made to help our clients offer their visitors full and independent use of their digital platforms." But, if anybody does run into any issues they, "can call and reach a person in real-time, committed to helping them do what they came to the site to do."

The 24/7 accessibility hotline includes a dedicated toll-free number, 24/7 live response, interactive resolution, instant notification for the organization, and long-term resolution of issues.

BoIA introduced the Letter of Reasonable Accessibility

The Bureau of Internet Accessibility knows that for our clients, achieving accessibility compliance is the highest priority, but they must also be able to prove it. That's why we now provide our clients with a Letter of Reasonable AccessibilityTM, updated quarterly, detailing why properties can be considered reasonably accessible and appropriate accommodations have been made for people with disabilities.

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