Comments from Speakers at
the March 2019 Digital Accessibility Legal Summit
Formerly founding partner of Brown, Goldstein & Levy, LLP (retired)
“In the late 1990s, Dr. Maurer, then President of the National Federation of the Blind, explained to me that while digital content—not inherently visual, audible or tactile but susceptible to being presented in any of those formats—should be the great equalizer for persons with sensory disabilities; but instead, through gratuitous design failures, was shaping up to segregate persons with disabilities more than they ever had been. He asked that I devise legal means to get the undivided attention of tech developers—a task at which I labored mightily, but to no great effect. Two decades later, the blind are shut out of many federal, state and local government websites, workplace employee-facing software, educational software and, of course, websites. I am now retired from the practice of law, but I have been working on a set of cross-disability standards that would define, as LEED does for environmental design, a set of criteria that, if met, would make a company a truly accessible company. Similarly, I have been working on a set of accessibility questions that could be included in post-secondary accreditation standards. Without concerted effort toward common goals, employers and educational institutions will continue to lose the opportunity to have talented employees and students.”
Pina D’Intino, MDes
Aequum Global Access
“Despite the many regulations, awareness campaigns and movements, education and training accessibility continues to be a myth, something many organizations are still challenged by. Why is that? A nice to have, must do or should do, understanding the risks or impacts of not doing it is crucial in today’s economic fabric. Mitigating that risk while ensuring you are compliant can sometimes be tricky and overwhelming, so let’s have the discussion, let’s explore ways to demystify this and put together a plan of action that can be sustained. I look forward to speaking At the Legal Summit and invite you with organizations representatives, accessibility stakeholders and experienced accessibility experts to share approaches, solutions and best practices that will empower, increase confidence through knowledge, tools and resources. Let’s debunk those myths that have for too long now created accessibility barriers.”
“I was introduced to disabilities at a very young age because of several family members being disabled. My firsthand introduction to an organization helping people with disabilities was at the age of 17 when I worked for the Epilepsy Society of Massachusetts. My career at Thomson Reuters intersected with the signing of the ADA in 1990 and I saw how organizations started to address ADA compliance by using Thomson Reuter’s legal and compliance publications. My younger years taught me compassion and empathy for individuals with disabilities and my latter years taught me the economics of compliance with the ADA.
“Since 1989, the internet and web technology have blossomed and the web has become the massive collection of information that it is today. As a result, over the last 28 years website access and the ADA have crossed paths countless times. The number of digital assets available to all of us has grown exponentially and the technology to interface with those assets has paralleled that growth. On the flip side, the number of accessibility lawsuits has grown in a similar fashion.
“So where does an organization go to research accessibility as a whole? Does Google provide us with the information we need to know when we receive a demand letter? What do the top legal publishers like Thomson Reuters, LexisNexis, Bloomberg Law, etc. have for accessibility compliance? What does the mainstream press, both print and online, provide for accessibility legal coverage? With all of the information on the web, can an organization realistically research and resolve a demand letter by themselves? I will explore the resources I access weekly when compiling information for Accessibility in the News, in addition to free publicly available resources. I will also discuss what resources I have seen from top legal publishers and their coverage of accessibility, plus I will share information on where to find useful accessibility information.”
The Law Office of Lainey Feingold
“I’ve been in the digital accessibility legal space since 1995 when I began working on Talking ATMs that blind people can use. As a disability civil rights lawyer, I negotiated my first website accessibility agreement almost 20 years ago, using the collaborative process known as Structured Negotiation. Ever since, my clients, co-counsel, and I have used this collaborative approach to advance accessibility and help organizations bake in accessibility. During this time, other disability civil rights lawyers, as well as the US Department of Justice and other agencies filed important, ethical lawsuits driven by real client needs that advanced digital access for people with disabilities.
“In the last three years, however, the legal environment has changed. Lawsuits are being filed without careful research, understanding of the field, or committed follow-though. Filed by a small handful of lawyers whose primary goals do not appear to be meeting the needs of disabled people. As I’ve written and spoken about, fear of lawsuits is a poor driver of accessibility, yet that is what is happening. And along with questionable lawsuits come experts and consultants selling a quick fix. And aggressive defensive lawyers seeing dollar signs in legal arguments. And saddest of all—even with court orders upholding the ADA—comes backlash that hurts disabled people.
“I want to speak about legal strategies at the Summit to help us all think about how we can distinguish the good from the bad in the legal space. How can we make sure the digital accessibility space is ethical and focused on problem-solving? How can the law be a force for creativity and civil rights protection? How can businesses large and small, educational institutions, and government agencies work on accessibility, value all its advantages, without looking over their shoulders for the next lawsuit? I look forward to a very participatory discussion as we sort out these important issues.”
Dr. Chris M. Law
“Legal cases are increasing in frequency, and the response to legal risk is a primary driver of accessibility programs in large organizations. It’s now time for us to gather and share best practices and resources. For the first time, we’re offering a timely course for legal professionals, accessibility professionals, and those interested in improving outcomes. With Pina D’Intino, I’ll be co-teaching the 1-day course on Organizational Risk Assessments and Risk Mitigation Tools.”
Karen Peltz Strauss, Esq
Former Deputy Chief of the Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau at the Federal Communciations Commission (FCC)
“Before the turn of the century, getting companies to provide telephone and television access for people with disabilities was a constant uphill battle. In the 1980s and 1990s, I can recall how – more often than not – efforts to convince companies to incorporate access into their mainstream products were met with claims that this would not only be cost prohibitive, but would impede innovation. With such resistance, the only recourse for consumers was to secure federal legislation to push companies into compliance. Enter stage left: laws requiring telecom relay services, telephones that can be used with hearing aids, and accessible and usable communications services and products. Enter stage right: laws requiring closed captioning, video description and accessible video programming devices. These and other mandates, all implemented through regulations adopted by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), created an accessibility roadmap for industries delivering Americans their telephone, television and Internet services. I’ll explore these various laws, demonstrating their critical importance to the integration and independence of people with disabilities seeking to exercise their equal rights to secure and enjoy employment, education, recreation, the marketplace and so many other facets of daily life.
“But I also want to discuss societal developments occurring in more recent years that may be reducing industry resistance to providing communications access. For example, it is now possible to customize products with software updates, to allow mainstream products to more easily be tailored to the individual needs of persons with disabilities. Additionally, America’s growing population of seniors with disabilities produces financial rewards for companies that integrate accessibility features into their off-the-shelf products. Many companies also are finally realizing that incorporating access won’t hurt innovation; rather, it can accelerate it. I’d like to explore to what extent, the combination of these and other factors have changed the willingness of previously reluctant companies to build access into their communications and video programming products and services – even in the absence of regulation. As new innovations are developed, to what extent can we expect companies to ‘rise to the occasion’ on their own by ensuring the accessibility of products not covered by current laws? In this changing landscape, should the FCC place increased reliance on collaborative methods, such as advisory committees and its ‘request for dispute assistance process’ to encourage productive dialogue between disability and industry stakeholders? What other roles – either regulatory or non-regulatory – can the FCC play to encourage accessible practices by the industries it oversees? I invite participants to share their own experiences and expectations to help answer these questions.”
Associate Director, WebAIM
“My role at WebAIM places me in an interesting position in relation to the legal aspects of digital accessibility. We are not entirely an advocacy group and we are not lawyers or involved directly in the legal processes. In many ways, we're right in the middle of these two things - a great place to have a perspective on both. Our long history of providing no-nonsense guidance on addressing digital accessibility, our interactions with clients that are often navigating legal and ADA enforcement actions, and our relationships with the disability community provide us unique insight into the law and how individuals with disabilities are impacted by legal decisions and processes. I'm excited to provide the summit's concluding presentation—Digital Accessibility and Legal: What’s Next?—and share the viewpoints of myself and my fellow summit speakers on what the future holds for the legal aspects of digital accessibility.”