Strategic Point of Play

Traveling over the past two months to various conventions and meetings has clarified one major
point to me. It is a strategic point of play behind Access Ready.
Our meetings in Tennessee are a great example. In our meeting with Jeff Roberts, the Davidson
County Elections Administrator, where I was joined by two great advocates. Carol Westlake,
Access Ready’s Chair of Coalitions and Chip Smith our Chair of Political Science, this glaring
strategic point of play came to light.
We were there to discuss accessible check-in at the polls. As the discussion went on it became
clear that our overarching message of building Access Ready Environments would have a more
sweeping effect.
This concept became even more clear in our next meeting with Commissioner Turner of the
States Department on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities.
While we have known this in an oblique subconscious way, the global effect of adopting an
Access Ready policy that cuts across all departments can have a more sweeping effect.
The reasoning is that since information technologies also cut through all levels of business,
government and the non-profit sectors that such a policy would have a dramatic trickle-down
effect on everything.
Advocating for changes in elections, education, social services, and points of sale, the
employment process and so forth put us in too many struggles with important, but small gains.
So many advocacy tracks are difficult to manage, and stretch resources.
All of the above examples and many more are supporting elements of why an Access Ready
policy should be adopted at overarching levels.
Yes, we should support divisional, departmental and programmatic adoption of an Access Ready
policy, but it should not be our focus. It is too much effort for too little gain.
Once businesses, government, and nonprofits have adopted an Access Ready policy at the global
level within their scope of influence then we will need to turn to guidance, education, and best
practices at the downstream levels.
At the downstream or local levels is where we must provide the tools necessary to assist IT
departments, ADA coordinators, and program managers as they begin applying the adoption of
the policy.
As we begin applying this strategic point of play we will also continue to develop the tools and
resources needed at those most important local levels.
Now some will say that engaging at the upper levels of business, government, and the nonprofit
sectors will be harder than the local level advocacy efforts. Yes, but the result is so much greater.
Voting against an Access Ready policy that is well-timed and has cost-effectiveness designed
into it, would be saying that twenty-five percent of the population does not deserve access at the
information technology level. Like the tools mentioned above such proposed policy changes
must be thoughtful and timely so they can take effect in the most efficient ways possible.
The point is not how fast things get done, but that they are on track to get done.

We are not saying delay without cause, but rather act as needed when needed in the most
accessible and economic ways.
We do not expect anyone in the business, government, or the nonprofit sectors to adopt our
sample Access Ready policy, but that it will be used as a guide for the drafting of their own
policies. The important part is that they contain the same elements. We are not as concerned
about how it is said, but rather that it is done in the long run.

NCIL Resolution on Access Ready Enviroments

National Council on Independent Living
A Resolution on Access Ready Environments

Whereas, the Americans With Disabilities Act, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of
1973, as amended, and other federal/state laws require that all new or updated
buildings meet federal and state physical accessibility guidelines;
Whereas, the Americans With Disabilities Act requires that government services and
places of public accommodation meet accessibility guidelines;
Whereas, the Americans With Disabilities Act requires that places of employment make
reasonable accommodations to provide for the employment of people with disabilities;
Whereas, the courts including the Supreme Court of the United States have upheld all
the above requirements;
Whereas, the cost of retrofitting or upgrading both buildings and technology is often held
out as a reason not to provide accessibility;
Whereas, many potential employers give lip service to the law and the concept of
employing people with disabilities, but these intentions are undermined by hiring
managers who quietly fear the cost of making a workplace accessible;
Whereas, modern technology driven workplaces are often not readily accessible to
potential employees with disabilities;
Whereas, accessible twenty-first century information technology has proven the ability
to level the workplace playing field;
Whereas, this same technology has proven the ability to make public facing portals to
service, retail, and information delivery accessible to people with disabilities;
Whereas, inaccessible twenty first century technology creates unreasonable, punitive
and costly barriers to people with disabilities;
Whereas, information technology is clearly the lifeblood of twenty-first-century
employment and commerce;
Whereas, the cost of accessible technology, if required in advance, is marginally
different from inaccessible products; and

Whereas, legal and moral precedent exists for the advance planning and
implementation of Access Ready Environments;

Now, therefore, be it resolved by the National Council on Independent Living assembled
this twenty-third day of July 2019 herein request and require that;
Federal, state and local governments, business and places of employment and public
accommodation voluntarily implement all steps necessary to require that information
technology managers, departments, developers, and providers take actions to impose
accessibility requirements in advance of their need in the same way that structures are
required to be accessible in advance of their need; and
That the Congress of the United States and the legislative bodies of the various states
take legislative action to require that Access Ready information technology
environments be imposed under the appropriate titles of the Americans With Disabilities
Act and supporting state statutes; and
That the Congress direct the United States Access Board or other appropriate bodies to
set Access Ready information technology standards where none exist designed to
create employment and public-facing environments that are or can easily be accessible
to people with disabilities; and
That Federal, state and local government purchasing departments, along with those of
business impose Access Ready requirements on respondents to requests for proposals
and other solicitations related to the purchase of information technology; and
That government and business information technology managers, departments,
developers, and providers at all leadership levels engage with disability technology
experts to review their current employee and public-facing systems to ascertain the
necessary upgrades to create an Access Ready environment; and
That disability organizations and experts begin to examine public facing information
technologies in order to inform the government and business owners of those systems
of the issues found, and further to take appropriate actions to bring about changes that
will provide Access Ready environments; and
Be it further resolved that the United States Department of Justice is hereby requested
to review, investigate, monitor, report on and take action against employers and places
of public accommodation who have a proven track record of avoiding, refusing to
implement, and/or failing to otherwise provide for Access Ready information technology
environments by policy, unreasonable budget restrictions, and/or supporting an
atmosphere of institutional discrimination against people with disabilities; and

That individuals with disabilities, with the support of their friends, families and civil rights
organizations, begin a grassroots campaign utilizing existing complaint and legal
avenues to bring to the attention of government and business the need for immediate

action to alter the course of technology development and implementation to include
accessibility from the outset and not as a case by case afterthought.

Developing Technologies

The gathering of organizations like the American Council of the Blind brings to the forefront the great opportunities we each have. New ideas, concepts, technologies, and policies are shown, debated and grown.
Looking at those attending this years disability conventions one must think back to the past and ask
what the disabled of the 1940s or the 1840s would think.
Americans with disabilities have freedoms and abilities they could not have dreamed of.
The accessible and adaptive technologies of today and yes tomorrow are expanding our personal
freedoms with no limit beyond what we ourselves choose to accept.
The litany of names that are expanding freedom and abilities are too numerous to mention but are
being led by the AIRAs, OrCam’s and Human Wares. Just when you think things can’t get better along
comes a new concept that changes the game.
Whether we look at VOTEC who is expanding access to the election process, Discover Technologies who is making software like Share Point accessible or Inclusion Solutions who keep finding and bringing new and innovative products and services into the market that are game changers. We mention all these as examples and not as endorsements. There are so many new companies and developments that it is impossible to list them all.
I bring these forward as examples that I personally have utilized and know their freeing effect.
It is not just about learning or work. It is about play time as well. Let’s talk about Blindfold games who has broken down the digital gaming barrier so I as a person who is blind can play games that are like Space Invaders, Battleship, and many more.
The invention is not only in the realm of blindness. Take a look at the tracked wheelchair that is a true all-terrain chair that even comes with a snow plow attachment and a rifle mount for hunting.
All of these things advance accessibility and will like all other inventions lead to new advancements. It is hard to see into the future of accessibility and know what is coming next. Access Ready is working to make sure that new information technology goods and services will be universally accessible. To that end, we see places like Orange County, Florida reaching new levels of understanding and effort where access is concerned.
Nothing is perfect and much work is yet to be done, but many are seeing the great opportunities for
changing the game.

Disability Advocacy

“Nothing about us without us” is not just a slogan. It is a guidepost, a philosophy and greatest of all, a rallying battle cry for people with disabilities everywhere. It is not to be trifled with or only given lip service to. We see many outside the disability community coming to an understanding of this direct statement.

People with disabilities have endured centuries of having their fate decided for them at the policy and personal levels. Many in government and business say they get it, but how many projects, programs or efforts meant to benefit the disabled are led by a person with a disability? I’m not talking about the blind guy you roll out on cue to show how inclusive you are. We must guard against being used that way no matter how much it may cost us personally. It is true, however, that there is new respect being shown to people with disabilities and accessibility needs and it is because of the strategic competence of advocates across many fronts. The growth of the disability community in size and recognized political power is lending credence to our newfound respect.

“Nothing about us without us”, means exactly that. No matter how well-intentioned it is, any discussion about disability at the policy or personal level that does not include representation at the policy level or the person whose life is being discussed at the personal level, is insulting, degrading and without real merit. Nowhere is this being more and more accepted than in the Information Technology (IT) world. The business, government, and Nonprofit sectors are fast coming to this understanding and beginning to include people with disabilities in their planning, testing and implementation of new IT goods and services.

In the past business and government officials use people with disabilities like props to make a point, but seldom included us in the actual planning or negotiations when it came down to it. We see that changing. They see that they are stronger with us than without us.

Nothing about us without us is being taken seriously. Whether we are working professionals in the policy field or a person with a disability trying to manage our own lives, we support each other by putting a stake in the ground and saying this far and no further, we will not abandon this position. Others now get it and are beginning to respect our positions.

Nothing about us without us is becoming a contractual obligation at the professional level and all of us who work in the profession need to agree to stand united on this point. Where individuals with disabilities are concerned it is often the first and last thing learned, remembered and included at all advocacy points.

We, professional policy advocates, are no longer being locked out after we have used our organizational contacts to reveal an issue or open a door to discussing it. Persons with disabilities are insisting on being a part of every discussion that holds sway over their lives and finding respect for that position in many places.

At all levels, we are no longer allowing ourselves to be used or perceived as props or pawns. Yes, this cultural shift is happening slowly, but it is happening.

Across IT and many other areas in the business, government and nonprofit sectors nothing about people with disabilities is being considered, debated or planned without the full participation of all those concerned. Public officials and corporate officers are no longer allowing such a thing because they recognize that it would be a betrayal of this ideal, but more than that, it is a waste of the knowledge that exists in each person with a disability.

No one is born understanding disability in all its facets. People with disabilities bring a unique level of experience in general and in specific as well. If our help is necessary, then the entire process can’t go forward without us. This is being recognized more and more so to the advocates I say keep going things are changing.

The Inaccessible Web is Improving

The inaccessible web is vast and growing by leaps and bounds every day, but it is getting better. Yes, there are still millions of small business and government websites built using templates, however, the providers of such templates are feeling the demand for accessibility from customers. This is because the work of many advocates across the world wide web is being felt and responded to.

Many companies and government entities having good intentions, spent millions providing accessibility on their website.  Some web developers charge a great deal and some not so much. What is important is the certification of those doing the work and the real user testing that is done before the site goes live.

Finding those that are truly qualified is not as easy as it sounds, but even that situation is improving as developers come to grips with Web Content Accessibility Guidelines and online document requirements. The tools to do such work are getting better as well which is also reducing the price of such things as document remediation.

Once the site is live and being used then the real test begins. This is because many website owners do not put accessibility protocols in place to keep the site accessible. This too is changing as managers begin to change the culture where accessibility online and through information technology is concerned.

We have all learned together that with the uploading of every new non-captioned picture, graphic or non-remediated PDF the site can become less and less accessible. Putting in place such protocols is a cultural change from the way things were done to how they need to be done now. It is not unlike the change from the sharp curb to sloped curb cuts which are now a matter of course.  After expending funds to make their website accessible many organizations have realized that changing the culture and attitude toward accessibility is the next vital step in the ongoing process.                 

Scanned PDF documents which are essentially a picture of a document and unintelligible to a screen reader are where many websites begin leaving the path of accessibility. PDF’s created as such can be read by many screen readers, but those PDF’s that have not been remediated or edited to be read by a screen reader are often just as unintelligible. We see more and more businesses, governments and nonprofits putting serious effort into training and processes that create accessibility.              

Website accessibility at the local county and municipal level are becoming a matter of course, thanks to the efforts of local advocates and organizations like Access Ready who bring the issue to the attention of officials. There are thousands of local jurisdictions across America who are now working every day to improve accessibility.  There are also attorneys plowing through the countryside filing legal actions with little if any prior notice who are mostly interested in collecting their fee and moving on. Access Ready has no objection to legal action where it is necessary, but we have seen cases where once the legal fees are paid, small business, government and nonprofits have little money left to make the changes necessary.

It is truly concerning to see this kind of legal activity slowing accessibility at the local government level because much of the governing that touches each of us is found and debated on those inaccessible websites and in those PDF documents. In Access Ready’s discussions, we have found general willingness in a large portion of the market without the need to threaten or take legal action. It is why we have a policy against taking legal action. We are here to educate, advocate and help.

The same issues can be raised in the nonprofit community. Inaccessibility on nonprofit websites and in their documentation can be truly counterproductive. Many of these organizations are in the business of providing services to the very people with disabilities that may not have access. Many non-profit teams are working hard to resolve online accessibility issues. Yes, the cost is an issue for nonprofits, but we have seen industry professionals donate services to non-profits to assist with accessibility issues. Access Ready is making efforts to bring such partnerships about. It is also launching fundraising programs so that we will be able to assist local nonprofits with their accessibility needs.

Inaccessible websites and documents violate a fundamental cornerstone of our democracy, which is transparency. We as Americans have the right and prerogative to know and understand what is going on in our government. Across America, we are seeing the shift in attitudes to a culture of accessibility.

In the commercial space, many companies are recognizing the need and queuing up to provide goods and services to eighty-two million Americans with disabilities. Yes, there are some still fighting the cultural shift, but it is a wave that will lift all boats as they say. Many companies have recognized and want a part of the 240 billion dollars of disposable income annually available to people with disabilities. This is a ready market given the transportation issues that face the disability community making shopping online a natural solution.

The inaccessible web and its accompanying documentation are only serving to deepen the digital divide and many who would most benefit from access. This reality is being recognized in many places. There is still much work to be done, but working together we advocates are making a start in partnership with business, government and the nonprofit sectors. The world wide web is where governance, commerce, and social services are moving to and will be expanding throughout the foreseeable future. Government, business and the nonprofit sectors must and in many places are stepping up to meet the accessibility requirements of a growing disability community.

People with disabilities and a growing public of mature citizens with similar needs are fortunate that the industry which provides support for accessible website design and ongoing PDF document accessibility services is growing and working hard to make providing accessibility easier, less costly and more understandable.

As people with disabilities, we should all take a step back and remember that no one is born with an understanding of accessibility. Especially in a time when technological development keeps moving the goal post.

Inaccessible Dallas Texas Part Four

Texas with it's Counties Colorfully Outlined

 

In the previous part, we looked at the legal requirements on election officials where accessibility is concerned under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Now let us turn to what can happen if their defense for not obeying the law is valid. The only defenses available are when the state or local government documents in advance, and can prove, that, using all its available resources, it is too difficult or too expensive to accomplish accessible communication or it would fundamentally alter the nature of the communication or program to make it accessible. Even if one of those defenses applies, the government entity is required to do everything it can to provide accessible communication up to the point where the burden becomes too great. This is a high bar. If a person with a disability is denied equally effective communication in voting, he or she can file a case in court or a complaint to a federal agency. Either way, the discriminating government entity can be required to pay damages for any extra expenses, time, or other burdens the complainant incurred, as well as damages for the harm of being obstructed in accessing the right to vote and of experiencing discrimination. The discriminating agency can also be required to make it’s voting systems accessible, adopt policies to ensure accessibility going forward, and to undertake any other steps necessary to remediate the problem. The discriminating agency can also be required to pay the complainant’s attorneys fees and costs. Finally, and most significantly, under Section 504, the agency can be required to give up its federal funding. How much Federal funding does Dallas get we ask? Are they ready to give it up? So, if a state or local government is providing voter information, voter verification, registration, ballots, or election results via the Internet or information technology, (IT) or if it is receiving information, registration applications, votes, and the like from voters or prospective voters via the Internet or IT, it ignores the accessibility of those communications at its own peril. Following their search for inaccessible poll book technology the Dallas County Elections Department, and Elections Administrator Toni Pippins-Poole has chosen such an inaccessible system and apparently, the political leaders have willingly or unwittingly supported this act of open discrimination. Would it not make more sense to openly discuss accessible IT policy with the disability community and withdraw the decision to purchase inaccessible technology in favor of a new RFP requiring accessibility? Access Ready stands prepared to assist and all it takes is a quick email or phone call to begin the process.

About Access Ready

Access Ready Inc. is a nonprofit cross-disability education and advocacy organization promoting a policy of inclusion and accessibility across information technology through education and best practices. It shall be Policy One of Access Ready Inc. never to be a plaintiff in and/or financially support any legal action or lawsuit related to the accessibility or inaccessibility of any information technology software, hardware or service. Further Access Ready Inc. shall make the results of its technical findings, policy discussions and advocacy efforts available to the public through accessready.org, its social media stream, and other public relations efforts. The Board of Directors of Access Ready has deemed inaccessible information technology to be a clear, growing and present danger to the civic, economic and social welfare of people with disabilities. We would welcome your support.

Inaccessible Dallas County Texas

There are apparently numerous facts that have been raised with the Commissioners, the County
Judge, the Purchasing Department, and the District Attorney documenting potential bias on the
part of Elections Administrator Toni Pippins-Poole acting as a Procurement Professional on
behalf of the County. We will leave it to the press and other discovery investigators to uncover
those facts for the public. We do know that Section 8 of the Dallas County Code of Ethics
requires Impartial Decision Making and Perception.” Section 12 states: Vendors, Procurement
Professionals, and Elected Officials shall maintain high standards of honesty, integrity, and
impartiality throughout the solicitation and contracting process, and shall conduct all contract
and solicitation-related activities in accordance with any governing laws, regulations, and this
Code of Ethics.” In addition, questions must be asked about the procurement of technology for
the election system. Not that new technology is being looked for, but the numbers do not
apparently add up. There are 486 Election Day Poll Sites that include 792 Precincts. In 2016, the
system served 1,112,375 voters and in 2018 that increased to 1,161,328 voters, an increase of
about 49,000. In June 2016, a Request for Proposal (RFP) was released that required 3,000 (three
thousand) iPads. Two years and three months later in September 2018, a new RFP requested
4500 iPads under what turned out to be a six million dollar contract for 3 years of which about
half is hardware. This is after a 49,000 or a 4.4% growth in voters, yet the new RFP looked for a
50% increase in iPads. This would mean about nine iPads per polling place when just two years
and three months earlier about 6 iPads per location was enough. This process must also be
looked at in the light of the number of voters who choose to vote early or by mail. In 2016,
514,581 ballots were cast through Early voting in person, 42,697 ballots were cast through the
mail and 211,666 voters went to the polls on election day. Dallas election administrators argued
at that time that they needed 3,000 (three thousand) iPads to serve 211,666 out of 1,112,375
voters or just over 19% of voters who went to the polls on election day. That is approximately 70
(seventy) users per iPad on election day in 2016. Spread over a 12 (twelve) hour voting day that
gives us about 5.9 voters per hour on each iPad. So are they really arguing that it takes each voter
almost 10 (ten) minutes to check in using the iPad based system? In 2018, 492,980 ballots were
cast through Early voting in person, 42,277 ballots were cast through the mail and 195,486 voters
went to the polls on election day. Dallas election administrators argued in the 2018 RFP that they
needed 4500 (four thousand five hundred) iPads to serve 195,486 out of 1,161,328 voters or just
under 17% of voters who went to the polls on election day. That is approximately 43 (forty-
three) voters per iPad on election day in 2018. Spread over a 12 (twelve) hour voting day that
gives us about 3.6 voters per hour on each iPad. So are they really arguing in this case that it now
takes each voter almost 15 (fifteen) minutes to check in using the iPad based system? Is the
failure rate of iPads that unusually high? Perhaps someone should tell Apple CEO, Tom Cook. Is
it true that Apple has stated in sales meetings that their products should not be used in mission-
critical environments? If so why would such equipment be chosen? Why are so many iPads
running software not designed to be accessible. The manufacturers of the proposed system might
be arguing that the iPad is accessible so therefore their software is. Unless designed to be
accessible to proscribed standards then accessibility will be problematic at best and more than
likely non-existent. Are the actions of Elections Administrator, Toni Pippins-Poole, based on
sound judgment, impartial decision making and perception? Is she acting in accordance with any
governing laws, regulations, and the Code of Ethics? Are her actions based on personal dislikes
and/or an overall discriminatory attitude toward people with disabilities in general? By not
including accessibility requirements she is certainly violating the ADA as governing law which
apparently puts her and her team in what may be a direct contradiction of the Code of Ethics.
Having been informed of the egregious act of discrimination by the Dallas County Elections
Department and Elections Administrator, Toni Pippins-Poole, in not requiring accessibility when
seeking new election technologies, Access Ready decided to see how far this discriminatory
attitude went across the governments of Dallas. To our dismay, we find that not only are they not
requiring accessibility in new technologies but that the online presence of Dallas County, the
Dallas Board of Elections, and the City of Dallas are overwhelmingly inaccessible as well.
Following our standard practice, we are informing the officials of those governments of these
violations along with the major disability organizations at the local, state, and national level.
Access Ready is offering to work with each of the governments to assist them in putting in place
policies designed to foster accessibility and we are waiting on their replies.
About Access Ready, Inc.
Access Ready, Inc. is a nonprofit cross-disability education and advocacy organization
promoting a policy of inclusion and accessibility across information technology through
education and best practices. It shall be Policy One of Access Ready Inc. never to be a plaintiff
in and/or financially support any legal action or lawsuit related to the accessibility or
inaccessibility of any information technology software, hardware or service. Further Access
Ready Inc. shall make the results of its technical findings, policy discussions and advocacy
efforts available to the public through accessready.org, its social media stream, and other public
relations efforts. The Board of Directors of Access Ready has deemed inaccessible information
technology to be a clear, growing and present danger to the civic, economic and social welfare of
people with disabilities. We would welcome your
support.

Inaccessible Dallas County Texas

Inaccessible Dallas Texas Part 2

Douglas George Towne

Chair and Chief Executive Officer

Access Ready Inc.

It is the duty of government to require accessibility so that developers will provide it in their goods and services. Even without this incentive one major company who understands the law has made an impressive investment in and advances across accessible election technologies to support Federal and State accessibility requirements. Yes, in the interest of full disclosure that the company VOTEC Corporation is one among many Founders of Access Ready Inc, but that does not change the facts in the case of inaccessible Dallas, Texas. The counties overt act of discrimination by not requiring accessibility and refusing to even look at a fully accessible product is what has brought Dallas County’s denial of disability rights to our attention. VOTEC recognizes the need and requirements that support accessibility, while inaccessible Dallas, Texas apparently does not. Access Ready does not endorse or recommend any companies product or services. We only seek that government requires accessibility across all information technology so that all companies will offer accessible innovations. This means that the argument that requiring accessibility was pointless because it does not exist in the new technologies that Dallas election officials are seeking is a straw man defense at best. Great pioneering strides have been made in the abilities to provide private and independent access to those citizens with sensory, mobility, and cognitive disabilities. We find that the technology necessary is openly available and waiting to be used to support the civil rights of people with Disabilities. Using the seven accessibility standards of Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended, as a baseline election technology developers have broken down previously thought to be insurmountable communication barriers. The barrier that is yet to be eliminated is the attitudes of those in power like Elections Administrator, Toni Pippins-Poole, who is apparently perpetuating these attitudes. By not requiring accessibility in their RFP she may have essentially fooled the members of the Election User Community Evaluation Group and ultimately Dallas voters into believing that accessibility in the emerging election technology market that includes poll books does not exist. If withholding information from the Election User Community Evaluation Group does not compound the perversion of the very civil rights of citizens with disabilities, then we do not know what does. This situation also raises questions about the impartiality of the procurement process. It begs the question why Elections Administrator, Toni Pippins-Poole, wouldn’t want to look at every potential technology available which makes the election process more independent, private and accessible. Access Ready is reviewing the websites of the City, County and Elections Department to see how far this discriminatory attitude goes.

About Access Ready

Access Ready Inc. is a nonprofit cross-disability education and advocacy organization promoting a policy of inclusion and accessibility across information technology through education and best practices. It shall be Policy One of Access Ready Inc. never to be a plaintiff in and/or financially support any legal action or lawsuit related to the accessibility or inaccessibility of any information technology software, hardware or service. Further Access Ready Inc. shall make the results of its technical findings, policy discussions and advocacy efforts available to the public through accessready.org, its social media stream and other public relations efforts. The Board of Directors of Access Ready has deemed inaccessible information technology to be a clear, growing, and present danger to the civic, economic, and social welfare of people with disabilities. We would welcome your support.

Cyber Security

Accessibility and Cyber Security
The inclusion of accessible information technology is the mission of Access Ready, but no one can say
that cybersecurity is not the concern of all of us who exist in our online and device connected internet of
everything in the world. Almost every day the cybersecurity features that are put in place to build our
trust are breached again and again. As we concern ourselves with the accessibility of websites, software,
and hardware we often find access needs coming up against those same security features designed to
protect us. Captcha images and the lousy audio files that try to make them accessible is perhaps the
most ubiquitous example of the issue. Those of us concerned with accessibility do not or should not, in
any case, oppose cybersecurity measures. We want to be protected as well. It does appear though that
security measures are developed without accessibility being taken into consideration. This should be of
no surprise since the majority of new technologies are developed today without those same
considerations. We are not suggesting that security is not more or less as important as accessibility, but
that it should be considered equally in the development and implementation process of new
technologies. Perhaps a larger concern is that the buyers, users, and managers of information
technologies often site security as a reason for not providing accessibility. This response is often given
without investigation and as a way to shut down the subject and move on. It is the age-old cry of the
oppressor, internal security which is another way of saying, you cant make us. Knowing that this
debate will come up as we work to advance the Access Ready Policy, we have looked for the best and
brightest to advise us. A cybersecurity qualified leader with a clear understanding of and development
experience in technological accessibility. Admittedly finding a person with credentials in both
cybersecurity and accessible information technology is a big ask. Big because it deals with two major
areas of concern in the development and implementation process and few people have a background in
both. To see both issues and find understanding and compromise it takes problem-solving skills from the
point of view of both disciplines and the ability to break down the problem to its basic elements. It also
takes the ability to understand a security excuse for not providing accessibility when such a
smokescreen is used. Access Ready Inc is pleased to welcome Matthew Michaelis to its Board of
Directors as Chair of Cyber Security. Matthew comes to us from a family of true technology and scientific
geniuses with a long history of contributions to accessibility and technological advancement. As Access
Ready begins to advance its global Access Ready Policy goals we want to be sensitive to cybersecurity
issues, but also need to help find a path through those issues to access solutions. It is our intention not
just to be a critic, but to equally offer problem-solving assistance and education. The advocate who
pounds the table demanding “Fix It” but has no idea of the real issue or how to resolve it has already
lost. Access Ready is not that kind of education and advocacy organization. Assuring accessible
information technology requires not just an understanding of the law that supports it, but what the
technical requirements, limitations and possibilities are as well.

Business Websites and the Americans with Disabilities Act

Civil Rights Attorney Eve Hill wearing a blue suit near office window

Public Access

Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), covering all places of public accommodation, was enacted in 1990. The ADA requires public accommodations to ensure their public communications with people with disabilities are effective.  Public accommodations include twelve broad types of businesses, such as hotels, restaurants, movie theaters, sales establishments, service establishments, museums, private schools, and social services.  Courts have differed regarding whether internet-only businesses are covered by Title III.  However, the Department of Justice has stated that, if a business falls into one of the twelve categories of “public accommodation,” its web-based communications are required to be effective for people with disabilities.

Effective communication generally means people with disabilities can access or acquire the same information, engage in the same interactions, and enjoy the same products and services that a business’ communications offer its sighted participants with substantially equivalent ease of use.  All types of communication are covered – including internet- and information technology (IT)-based communication.  To be effective, accessible communications must be provided in a timely manner, and in such a way as to protect the privacy and independence of the individual with a disability.  These requirements apply to both communications the business makes to members of the public and communications it receives from the public.

The only defenses available are when the business can prove, that, using all its available resources, it is too difficult or too expensive to accomplish accessible communication or it would fundamentally alter the nature of the communication or program to make it accessible.  Even if one of those defenses applies, the business is required to do everything it can to provide accessible communication up to the point where the burden becomes too great.

In addition to their own online communications, businesses may be responsible for the accessibility of content and IT tools used on their websites, when that content or tool is necessary to access the business’ goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations.  Thus, for example, when a business uses a third-party online system for customers to pay, place orders, or ask questions, the business needs to ensure that third-party system is accessible.

If a person with a disability is denied effective communication, he or she can file a case in court or a complaint to the Department of Justice.  Either way, the discriminating business can be required to make its communications accessible, adopt policies to ensure accessibility going forward, and to undertake any other steps necessary to remediate the problem.  The discriminating business can also be required to pay the complainant’s attorneys’ fees and costs.

So, if a business is providing information, goods, services, programs, or activities to the public via the internet or IT, or if it is receiving communications from the public via the internet or IT, it ignores the accessibility of those communications at its own peril.

In the bygone era of just paper-and-pencil documents and in-person or telephone communications, equally effective communication generally meant providing large print, taped texts, and Braille formats for documents, and using sign language interpreters, relay services, and captioning for meetings and telephone calls.  These are known in the ADA as auxiliary aids and services.  As we have entered the age of internet- and IT-based communication, auxiliary aids and services have also moved online.  Nowadays, most people with vision disabilities have access to screen reader software, magnification software, or Braille displays that can translate a web page or electronic document into large print, computerized speech, or Braille.  A website can, therefore, be made accessible to blind and low vision people simply by ensuring it will work with such assistive devices and software programs, that certain standards are met for images and other visual information, and that input and navigation can be achieved through keyboard commands as well as mouse commands.  Now, captioning for pre-recorded video and audio information is readily available for people with hearing disabilities.  A video or audio presentation or meeting can be made accessible to people who are deaf or hard of hearing simply by providing captions online.  By making a website or online document or video accessible (i.e., screen readable, usable without a mouse, and captioned), a business can make its communications accessible without having to create separate accessible versions.  The regulations implementing the ADA provide that accessible electronic and information technology is a type of auxiliary aid or service required by Title III.

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), an international group that sets standards in various technology contexts, has developed a consensus standard for accessibility of websites and other communications technologies – the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).  Version 2.1 is the current version, although Version 2.0 is still widely accepted.   Level AA of these guidelines usually results in accessibility to users with vision, hearing and speech disabilities.  International governments have adopted the WCAG standards, as has the U.S. government for its own accessible technology, and the U.S. Department of Transportation has adopted WCAG as the standard for accessibility of airline websites and kiosks.  While the ADA does not provide a specific standard for web accessibility, the Department of Justice and other federal agencies, as well as courts, have found WCAG 2.0 Level AA to meet the Title III’s effective communication requirement.

If a website or online document or video is not accessible, however, the business will have to maintain a separate system for communicating with people with disabilities.  That separate accessible system, whether it is a staffed telephone line or some other means, is likely to be expensive.  Worse, such a separate system is likely to violate the ADA’s requirement of effective communication.  A staff-based substitute for a website, for example, would need to be available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, just as the website is.  The staff would need to be prepared to navigate the entire website, orally describe all the information, and carry out transactions for a blind person.  The staff would need to be prepared to transcribe all the speech and describe all the audio content of videos and audio programming.  And the staff would need to be prepared to accurately input any information the person with a disability wanted to communicate back to the business.  All of this would need to be timely, accurate, and complete, while not placing additional burdens on the person with a disability and while maintaining their privacy and independence.

Accessible technology does not happen automatically.  To avoid the expensive, noncompliant fallback system of access, businesses and their web designers, technology vendors, content creators, and communicators, must incorporate accessibility as a matter of course, not as an exception, both when developing or purchasing new technology or content, and as part of a planned remediation strategy.

Employee Access

Businesses have legal obligations, not only to the public, but also to their employees and prospective employees.  Title I of the ADA applies to the employment activities of businesses with 15 or more employees.  In addition, businesses that hold government contracts are covered by Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act, which requires affirmative action to employ people with disabilities.

These laws do not specifically require businesses to ensure their employee-facing technology is always accessible.  However, in any work environment in which technology is an important tool, an employer that does not ensure its technology is accessible will almost certainly fail to meet its legal obligations.

A business must provide reasonable accommodations to ensure its employees with disabilities can perform the essential functions of their jobs, unless doing so constitutes an undue hardship in light of all its available resources.  The employer must prove any claim of undue hardship and must provide any accommodations that do not rise to the level of undue hardship.  Therefore, if a business uses existing technology that is inaccessible, it theoretically has two options – 1) make the technology accessible or 2) if it is too expensive or difficult to make the technology accessible, provide a work-around for the employee with a disability (e.g., a staff person or contractor to act as a reader, scribe, or interpreter).  If, on the other hand, the employer has purchased or developed employee-facing technology since the ADA was enacted, it is less likely to be able to succeed in making an undue hardship defense.  That is because, if an accessible version of the technology was available or it was not difficult to make the technology accessible when it was developed, then it would not have been an undue hardship to use accessible technology.  The cost of remediating a new technology should have no bearing if the technology could have been accessible from the beginning.

In addition, work-arounds for inaccessible technology are inefficient, expensive, and often fail to provide equal access for employees with disabilities.  For example, when an online database is readily available on-demand to employees without disabilities as they perform their duties, but an employee with a disability must await the availability of a part-time reader in order to access it, the employee with a disability is being denied an equal opportunity to perform his or her job.

Employees with disabilities are not merely entitled to the opportunity to perform the essential functions of their jobs, with or without reasonable accommodations, but are entitled to equal access in all the terms, conditions, and privileges of employment.  Such terms, conditions, and privileges include the training, interoffice communication, networking, and other opportunities offered to nondisabled employees.

 

Eve L. Hill

Inclusivity Consulting