Technology keeps advancing at a tremendous pace every day. However, did you realize that technology progresses practically double every 18 months? With these changing technologies comes the need for changes in apps, websites, and other digital media. And this requires bills to ensure the internet, especially websites, and apps are accessible to everyone, including disabled users.
The CVAA and CVTA
One such bill is the Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA), written by Senator Edward J. Markey in 2010, with bipartisan support.
Representative Anna G. Eshoo introduced the Communications, Video, and Technology Accessibility Act (CVTA) on November 17, 2022. It updates and amends the CVAA to keep pace with all emerging technologies since the passing of the CVAA.
The CVTA ensures people with disabilities have full and equal access to all essential communication products and services through a strong accessibility foundation.
Senator Markey maintains that they must ensure everyone, including disabled users, have equal access to services and technologies and grow despite changing technologies.
The CVTA laws will ensure the update of all digital communication products and services to provide equal access, independence, and opportunity to all.
According to Rep. Eshoo, most of the economy and everyday activities are now online with the rapid technological evolutions in the past two decades. However, as accessibility standards haven’t changed much, disabled users are left behind.
She also states that in 2020, 38% of blind users and users with low vision reported minimally one technology problem at work and that as many as 70% of deaf or hard-of-hearing students reported educational issues in 2021.
Rep Eshoo is proud to introduce the updated legislation with Senator Markey to provide full access to people with disabilities to ensure their equal future participation.
FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel states that accessibility provides equal accessibility to create, participate and communicate and that the agency actively promotes accessible technology. This is possible by ensuring people with disabilities have equal access to communication and services to participate in today’s world through a strong accessibility foundation. Other cosponsors in this movement include Senators Sheldon Whitehouse, Tammy Duckworth, Dianne Feinstein, and Ron Wyden.
Since the CVAA in 2010, there hasn’t been any update to accessibility requirements for disabled users. As a result, many disabled users don’t have full access to multiple communication and video tools.
- Most video programming does not have audio descriptions that help users with vision impairments.
- Both online and televised video programs with accuracy issues on closed captioning reduce accessibility for deaf or hard-of-hearing users.
- Video conferencing services lack functionality for disabled users
- Deaf people who communicate with sign language face multiple barriers when they need emergency services
So the CVTA will help address these and other issues by:
- Improving and expanding the standards for close captioning and audio description in television and online video streaming platforms. Disabled users will thus have equal access to all programs.
- Updating existing requirements to let viewers customize settings for closed captions and audio descriptions on devices like smartphones, laptops, tablets, and televisions
- Improving video programming access to users who are deaf or use sign language
- We are empowering the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to keep updated with emerging technologies.
Organizations supporting the CVTA
Various organizations like Access Ready, the Association of Assistive Technology Act Programs, the American Council of Blind, the Blinded Veterans Association, and the Hearing Loss Association of America endorse the CVTA.
Here’s what they have to say about the CVTA:
- Doug Towne of Access Ready declares that information and communication accessibility is a necessity and not a luxury for disabled users. Accessibility fosters independence, self-sufficiency, and economic and active meaningful participation. So Access Ready proudly endorses the CVTA in opening up, protecting, expanding, and improving information and communication technologies for disabled users.
- James Vale of the Blinded Veterans Association says it’s not surprising that the unemployment rate for blind and impaired persons is as high as 70%. It’s all due to the lack of updates to telecommunication accessibility standards.
The Blinded Veterans Association thanks Senator Markey and Congresswoman Eshoo for the CVTA for providing a proactive solution by laying an accessibility foundation for future technologies.
It also fills up gaps and provides disabled users with full access to products and services like video conferencing necessary for equal participation in employment.
- Eric Bridges of the American Council of Blind (ACB) acknowledges that the CVAA laid the foundation for accessible technology and inclusive media to let vision-impaired users access telecommunications technology, web browsers, and video content.
He also mentions that there has been widespread technological advancement and adoption of various new communication and video distribution models by content creators and consumers since the CVAA.
So Congress must reaffirm accessible communications and video technologies, and the ACB commends Sen. Markey and Rep. Eshoo for the CVTA.
- Stephanie Enyart of the American Foundation for the Blind agrees that the CVTA has catalyzed improvements in access to telecommunications, video programming, and services.
However, she also reiterates that there’s a long way before the blind, deaf/blind, and those with low vision can watch programs or fully access new and emerging communications services as people without disabilities. She thus urges Congress to keep the process moving with the passing of the CVTA.
- Greg Donnelly of the Carroll Centre for the Blind leads in vision rehabilitation services for the visually impaired. With the rapid growth in technology, he knows that accessible technology is essential for disabled users in everyday work at the office, school, home, and the community. The Centre thus endorses and applauds the CVTA.
- Bob Williams of Communication FIRST thanks Senator Markey and Rep. Eshoo for the CVTA that strengthens existing laws to assure disabled users full access to communication products and services and lays a foundation for accessibility in future technologies.
It also tasks the FCC with the U.S. Access Board in identifying solutions to ensure disabled users and those who use augmentative and alternative communication devices effectively access and communicate through emerging communications and video technology.
- Christopher Soukup of Communication Service for the Deaf lauds the CVTA for helping achieve communication equity and digital inclusivity for deaf communities.
However, he also states that while the race for new technologies usually happens without involving the disability community, it should be contemporaneous to impact the population’s quality of life.
- Barbara Kelley of the Hearing Loss Association for America states that the CVTA will let Americans with disabilities benefit equally as innovations close gaps in communication and video programming technologies made in the past 12 years. She and the HLAA commend Senator Markey and Rep. Eshoo for the CVTA.
- Howard A. Rosenblum, CEO of the National Association of the Deaf, states that there have been many changes since the CVAA. Law updates to provide equal access to everyone, including deaf, deaf/blind, deaf/disabled, and hard of hearing people are necessary.
The CVTA will provide users with access to video-conferencing platforms with built-in accessibility features like automatic captioning functions so that people with hearing impairments are not left behind.
- Mark Riccobono of the National Federation of the Blind agrees that accessibility regulations should change with updates in video content, online communication, and digital technologies.
He mentions that the updates should promote audio descriptions and captioning and provide easy access across all platforms and devices for equal access to education, employment, culture, and entertainment. He thus commends Sen. Markey and Rep Eshoo for the CVTA.
- Ralph G. Neas of Voiceitt, Inc agrees that the CVTA will empower disabled users with effective communication in all life aspects.
He applauds Sen. Markey and Rep. Eshoo for the CVTA, and Voiceitt will work with the disability community, Congress, Federal agencies, and the private sector to help understand and communicate better with those with speech disabilities.
- Thomas Horejes of TDI states that the CVTA is a historical landmark law that strengthens Information and Communications Technology accessibility.
However, as technology continues to evolve, new accessibility barriers for disabled users will create a digital inequity gap that CVAA Amendments can address.
- Dave Power of the Perkins School for the Blind in Watertown, MA, states that equal access to communication and video technologies is vital for people with disabilities.
The CVTA will ensure disabled people make maximum use of these critical services. He states that the School applauds Sen. Markey and Rep. Eshoo for the CVTA that provides people with cortical/cerebral visual impairment and auditory processing disorders access to the required assistive technologies.
- Blake E. Reid of Samuelson-Glushko Technology Law & Policy Clinic contributed to the CVTA on behalf of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. He states that the CVTA is a landmark step towards providing people with disabilities equal access to video, technology, and communications.
The Websites and Software Applications Accessibility Act
Senator Tammy Duckworth and Representative John P. Sarbanes introduced the Websites and Software Applications Accessibility Act to make websites and mobile apps accessible to people with disabilities on September 29, 2022, in the United States Senate and House of Representatives.
Senator Duckworth says that even before the pandemic, many Americans relied on the internet to work, buy things and connect with people.
However, many Americans with disabilities couldn’t use these opportunities because of inaccessible websites and apps. He states that he’s proud to introduce the bill with Rep. Sarbanes to make web and other technologies more accessible to everyone, including disabled users.
Congressman Sarbanes states that digital innovation is powerful only if inclusive. Digital accessibility has reduced with increasing new technologies reaching broad spectrums of health, employment, education, and other critical resources.
The best way to resolve the issue is by introducing uniform and consistent standards explaining true digital accessibility and providing adequate enforcement mechanisms.
He also states that the bill will need federal agencies to provide clear laws to reduce web accessibility barriers and help businesses and state and local governments work toward compliance.
He also declares that he and Senator Duckworth are proud to introduce the law to achieve equity and inclusion for all Americans.
The ACB, AFB, National Disability Rights Network (NDRN), and NFB commend and support both for introducing the legislation. Once passed, the Department of Justice and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission must:
- Establish a clear and enforceable national framework for website and software application accessibility
- Reform the existing laws covering sites and software applications
- Ensure accessibility standards keep updated with new and emerging technologies.
This is vital because disabled users use assistive technologies to access websites. For example:
- Blind and vision-impaired users use screen-reader technology to read the website and application content aloud or to display on compatible Braille devices.
- Deaf or hard-of-hearing users use closed captioning and remote video interpreters
- People with physical disabilities like limited manual dexterity may require websites offering full keyboard navigation
- People with speech-related impairments may encounter barriers in websites using voice interaction or providing phone numbers to communicate in the business.
Organizations supporting the CVTA
Multiple disability and civil rights organizations like the American Association of People with Disabilities, the American Foundation for the Blind, the Hearing Loss Association of America, and Paralyzed Veterans of America support the bill.
Here’s what they have to say about the bill:
- President Dan Spoone says that ACB is delighted with the bill and that Congress is giving the issue its deserved attention. He states that it’s necessary to ensure the blind and those with low vision aren’t left behind to create an increasingly digital environment.
- Stephanie Enyart of the American Foundation for the Blind states that the past few years have revealed how vital digital accessibility is to everyone.
With multiple research studies revealing digital accessibility barriers, the bill will transform accessibility to employment, healthcare, education, and other daily activities for blind people and those with low vision.
- Eric Buehlmann of NDRN says it’s appalling that many disabled users cannot access today’s countless opportunities just because websites and mobile applications aren’t designed with universal access or for proper interaction with assistive technologies.
He states that people with disabilities should have equal access to online resources and applauds Senator Duckworth and Rep. Sarbanes for this much-needed legislation.
- Mark Riccobono of the National Federation of the Blind states that they have successfully vindicated the right of blind Americans to work and live in today’s digital world.
However, as individual complaints and agreements don’t keep pace with the expansion and evolution of technology, many entities serving disabled users seek guidance. He thus urges the United States Congress to quickly enforce this bill that will finally bridge the gap in inaccessible technologies.
In tandem with the passing of these bills, website owners and web developers must ensure digital access to their websites and mobile applications.
So if you face any website accessibility issues, we at ADA Site Compliance can help as we are the #1 source for all ADA website compliance work.
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The ADA prohibits any private businesses that provide goods or services to the public, referred to as “public accommodations,” from discriminating against those with disabilities. Federal courts have ruled that the ADA includes websites in the definition of public accommodation. As such, websites must offer auxiliary aids and services to low-vision, hearing-impaired, and physically disabled persons, in the same way a business facility must offer wheelchair ramps, braille signage, and sign language interpreters, among other forms of assistance.
All websites must be properly coded for use by electronic screen readers that read aloud to sight-impaired users the visual elements of a webpage. Additionally, all live and pre-recorded audio content must have synchronous captioning for hearing-impaired users.
Websites must accommodate hundreds of keyboard combinations, such as Ctrl + P to print, that people with disabilities depend on to navigate the Internet.
Litigation continues to increase substantially. All business and governmental entities are potential targets for lawsuits and demand letters. Recent actions by the Department of Justice targeting businesses with inaccessible websites will likely create a dramatic increase of litigation risk.
Big box retailer Target Corp. was ordered to pay $6 million – plus $3.7 million more in legal costs – to settle a landmark class action suit brought by the National Federation of the Blind. Other recent defendants in these cases have included McDonald’s, Carnival Cruise Lines, Netflix, Harvard University, Foot Locker, and the National Basketball Association (NBA). Along with these large companies, thousands of small businesses have been subject to ADA website litigation.
Defendants in ADA lawsuits typically pay plaintiff's legal fees, their own legal fees for defending the litigation, and potential additional costs. In all, the average cost can range from tens of thousands of dollars, to above six figures. There are also high intangible costs, such as added stress, time and human capital, as well as reputational damage. Furthermore, if the remediation is incomplete, copycat suits and serial filers can follow, meaning double or triple the outlay. It's vital to implement a long-term strategy for ensuring your website is accessible and legally compliant.