Linkages Experience Receives SHRM – GT Diversity and Inclusion Award

November 2nd, 2016 by

Linkages Experience is very pleased and honored to announce that we are the recipient of the SHRM – GT  2016 Diversity and Inclusion Award. The Diversity and Inclusion Award is presented to the organization that most exemplifies measurable value added to the economy by strengthening community relationships and improving the lives of employees through diversity and inclusion. SHRM recognized Linkages Experience for our unique technology to enable individuals with disabilities, wounded warriors, disabled veterans and all veterans with web based accessibility to jobs posted on the Internet.  

 

Mark Ziska, CEO of Linkages Experience, on receiving the award. “The most important aspect of receiving an award like this is that it raises awareness of the hurdles individuals with disabilities face in accessing web sites, applying for employment, and using HR, and other digital tools.  Increased awareness in important in spurring the large numbers of organizations who are inaccessible in these areas to move forward to address discrimination and lack of access to individuals with disabilities.” In addition for our outreach to those most in need of locating and securing meaningful employment in their area of skills and knowledge, Linkages Experience is expert in helping organizations achieve accessible Web, staffing, HR, and compliance solutions. Linkages provides the nation’s only fully accessible public job board which puts all people on an equal footing to apply for jobs. Clients include government, federal contractors and organizations that serve the mission population. 

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New York City Enacts Accessibility Standards for Government Websites

April 18th, 2016 by

By John W. Egan on April 14th, 2016 Posted in Department of JusticeLegislative/Regulatory ActionsTitle III Access

 

Seyfarth Synopsis: NYC recently passed a law requiring that its government agency websites meet accessibility standards.  Other state and local governments may follow NYC’s lead and enact accessibility standards for government agencies, contractors and even public accommodations in the absence of regulations from DOJ.

On March 14, New York City became the first major municipality in the United States to adoptlegislation mandating accessibility standards for all of its government agency websites.  Serving a population of over 8 million, the New York City government includes more than 120 agencies staffed by approximately 325,000 employees.  This legislation will have an impact on City agencies, and access for persons with disabilities to those institutions.  It may also have an impact on future website regulations impacting businesses across the country.

Recent NYC Legislation

The website legislation (Intro. 683-A) was among three disability access bills that Mayor Bill De Blasio signed into law on the same day.  In addition to mandating website protocols, the legislation requires that each City agency designate a “disability service facilitator,” and publicize, among other things, the availability of wheelchair access, communication access real-time translation, sign language interpretation, assistive listening systems (e.g. loop technology), and any other accommodations to be made available for all public events.  This sweeping legislative mandate also expressly requires that City government websites display New York State’s controversial “Accessible Icon” (rather than the International Symbol of Access), to designate venues for government meetings or other events that are accessible to wheelchair users.

NYC Must Adopt an Accessible Website Protocol within 6 Months

The new City law underscores that the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 Level AA (“WCAG 2.0 AA”) is increasingly becoming the de facto standard for website accessibility, despite the continued lack of any regulations from the U.S. Department of Justice (“DOJ”) setting a legally-required standard for state and local governments under Title II of the ADA, or for public accommodations (i.e. private businesses) under Title III.

Under the new law, the City must establish a website protocol within 6 months that incorporates: (1) Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act (“Section 508”); (2) WCAG 2.0 AA; or (3) any “successor” standards.  The Section 508 standard applies to the federal government websites and  consists of a list of 16 requirements that are less rigorous than WCAG 2.0 AA.  But last year the Access Board proposed a rule that would, among other things, adopt WCAG 2.0 AA as the new website standard under Section 508.  Thus, if the City incorporates Section 508 in its website protocol, its agency websites may be subject to WCAG 2.0 Level AA once the final Section 508 regulations are issued.

There are several exceptions to the new accessibility mandate.  The City may adopt protocols that differ from Section 508, WCAG 2.0 AA, or any successor standard, but if it does, it must first consult with experts in website design, conduct a public hearing, and ensure that any differences will still provide effective communication for persons with disabilities.  In addition, the law does not require the “fundamental alteration” of any service, program, or activity, and shall not impose an “undue financial or administrative burden.”

Potential Impact on Businesses

The adoption of accessibility standards for government websites in the most populous city in the United States is significant.  Other municipalities may follow New York City’s lead and pass their own legislation or regulations for accessible features in government websites.  This may result in differing local standards across jurisdictions, which would undermine DOJ’s efforts to implement a comprehensive, national set of rules for website accessibility under Title II of the ADA.

State and local legislators may decide to extend the WCAG 2.0 AA’s reach to the websites of private businesses doing business with state or local governments, or the public, after they are done dealing with their agency websites.  This could follow the model of Ontario, Canada, where the provincial government enacted regulations requiring businesses with 50 or more employees in Ontario to ensure that their websites meet WCAG 2.0 Level A guidelines (and to meet WCAG 2.0 Level AA by 2021).  Based on the progressive legislative and regulatory agenda of the current mayoral administration, we would not be surprised if New York City passed a future law requiring that government contractors or businesses with a presence in the City provide accessible websites.

The bottom line is that if DOJ continues to delay in issuing proposed rules for website accessibility, states and local governments may step into that void and enact rules of their own for government entities, contractors, and even public accommodations.  This could subject businesses to potentially inconsistent rules across jurisdictions.  It is yet another reason why DOJ guidance on this topic is needed now more than ever.

Edited by Minh Vu and Kristina Launey.

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A Lot More Needs To Be Done To Help Blind People Use The Internet

April 7th, 2016 by

Facebook’s new blind-friendly feature puts a small dent in a big problem.

Casey Williams Editorial Fellow, The Huffington Post

For the blind, navigating the digital world can be as tricky as moving through the physical one. 

Some companies have tried to make their sites easier for the world’s 39 million blind people to use. Facebook, for instance, just introduced a new image-recognition feature that lets blind users “see” photos on the site.

But blind advocates say fixes like Facebook’s don’t solve the biggest obstacles blind people face online. 

“We think it’s pretty cool,” Mark Riccobono, the president of the National Federation of the Blind, told The Huffington Post. “But we get concerned about flashy technology.”

“For the average blind person, it’s not whether they know something is in a photo or not that determines whether they can do online banking, pay their bills or buy groceries,” said Riccobono, who is blind.

Even as the Internet becomes an increasingly necessary feature of modern life, much of the web is difficult for blind people to use effectively.

A range of technologies exist to help blind people navigate the web. Braille keyboards and text-to-speech programs convert text to audio, which allows blind people to consume information on the web aurally. The devices can also transform speech into text, which allows blind people to “type.” These devices often work well with thoughtfully designed websites. But they hit snags when sites have elements that aren’t clearly labeled or are incompatible with keyboard shortcuts, which blind people rely on. 

“Websites that have been designed from the beginning with accessibility in mind are easy for blind people to use — they’re easy to navigate, you can jump around pretty effectively and get information as effectively as a sighted person,” Riccobono said. But, he said, many sites still have “artificial barriers” that make performing basic online tasks difficult for blind users.

One of the biggest barriers is unclear labeling. In order to describe what’s on a given webpage, text-to-speech programs comb through the source code for labels that describe the page’s elements. They then say those labels aloud. If elements aren’t clearly labeled in the source code — if a checkout button, say, is just labeled “image” — it can make navigating the page very frustrating for users who rely on spoken descriptions to move around the site. 

“If I go on an e-commerce website and put stuff in my cart, but get to the payment screen and have trouble because the checkout button’s not labeled — that’s a high degree of frustration,” Riccobono said. 

Web developers can use accessibility guidelines for blind users when designing their websites. But even when they refer to those guidelines, web companies don’t always do a good job implementing them, Riccobono said. 

“If you don’t test [your code] for accessibility, and a problem arises and it’s not dealt with, then the code gets launched anyway,” he said. Once finalized, it can be difficult to retrofit websites to improve accessibility.

We need to do in the digital world the same thing we’ve done in the physical world.Mark Riccobono, National Federation of the Blind

Blind advocates have urged the Obama administration to update the Americans with Disabilities Act to include explicit standards for web accessibility for blind users. While President Barack Obama initially seemed amenable to the standards — in 2010, he named them among “the most important updates to the ADA since its original enactment” — last year his administration quietly postponedconsideration of new web accessibility standards until 2018.

For Riccobono, updating the ADA is a necessary step toward equal access for the blind.

“We need to do in the digital world the same thing we’ve done in the physical world,” he said. “The lack of standards makes it very difficult for businesses to understand when they’ve met a high standard of accessibility.”

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Harvard and MIT: A Decision Is Here! (Sort Of)

February 20th, 2016 by

Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Statements of Interest (SOI) were filed in June of 2015 in the cases involving Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), touching off a flood of litigation and threatened litigation, the magistrate judge has issued her report and recommendation to the district judge that the defendants’ motions to dismiss be denied. While subject to objections and the district judge’s determination, the decision is a setback for those who do not currently have websites that are accessible to persons with disabilities.

In her central finding, the magistrate judge opined that Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has always applied to the Internet and that the ADA’s requirement to provide auxiliary aids and services to ensure effective communication with individuals with disabilities extends to online content under 42 U.S.C. § 12182(b)(2)(A)(iii), 28 C.F.R. § 36.303(a). The magistrate judge noted that while the application of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 to videos on university websites may be fairly new, the failure to accommodate theory is not and that, therefore, the plaintiffs have stated a claim under Section 504that should survive the motion to dismiss.

Of note, the court rejected the universities’ arguments that the mandate to comply with the design standards in the ADA Accessibility Guidelines for Buildings and Facilities (ADAAG) (42 U.S.C. § 12183; 28 C.F.R. § 36.406), rather than the auxiliary aids and services requirement, governs its website, noting (incorrectly) that the ADAAG does not apply to non-physical structures. The magistrate judge also rejected the universities’ argument that requiring captioning would run afoul of 28 C.F.R. § 36.307, which provides that a public accommodation is not required “to alter its inventory to include accessible or special goods that are designed for, or facilitate use by, individuals with disabilities,” because the website is a service, not a good.

The magistrate judge also rejected the universities’ “primary jurisdiction” argument, finding that neither of the twin purposes underlying the doctrine—the promotion of desirable uniformity in determining administrative questions and the resort to the specialized expertise of an agency in resolving highly technical questions of fact—would be aided by application of the doctrine in this case. On the other hand, the magistrate judge noted the great potential for a delay of unknown duration while the federal administrative rulemaking process proceeds, leaving individuals who have certain disabilities without equal access to websites. Specifically, the magistrate judge found that because the inquiry regarding whether a website is accessible is fact-specific, and any declaratory or injunctive relief would be specific to Harvard or MIT, no concern exists regarding administrative consistency. The magistrate judge also noted that the DOJ is not an “expert” on website availability—it relies on outside experts in formulating its regulations—and that if the court needed additional, technical expertise, it would call on its own experts.

In one of the more disconcerting parts of the opinion, the magistrate judge stated that even if it imposes obligations on Harvard or MIT that wind up being more onerous than the DOJ’s eventual regulations, that does not undermine the uniformity of the DOJ’s regulatory interpretation because any additional burden (unless it is undue) on the schools is irrelevant to a primary jurisdiction analysis. This statement sums up the magistrate judge’s overarching view that when it comes to accommodations, it is better to err on the side of caution.

The magistrate judge also noted that in its Statements of Interest, the DOJ has reiterated its position that the ADA applies to the Internet and that the DOJ’s consistently-stated position cannot be squared with the notion that it is permissible to discriminate until the DOJ issues specific regulations governing website access.

However, the opinion was not all doom and gloom. The magistrate judge noted throughout the opinion that the inquiry is fact-specific, and such facts may allow the schools to ultimately prevail on a number of affirmative defenses, such as undue burden and fundamental alteration of the nature of the service. On the subject of remedies, the magistrate judge also pointed out that it is not limited to requiring schools to caption every audio-visual file because the court may consider a variety of different options regarding captions.

Of course, it is also important to note what the magistrate judge did not decide. First, this is merely a “report and recommendation” to the district judge, which could be affirmed as the court’s order, modified, or rejected. Second, the magistrate judge emphasized that these issues were raised on a motion to dismiss, a procedural posture in which the facts as alleged by the plaintiffs must be taken as true. The magistrate judge did not find that the universities had violated the ADA; rather, the magistrate judge merely found that the plaintiffs had stated a cognizable claim that could proceed to the next phase of litigation to determine whether a violation of the ADA occurred. Finally, because of this procedural posture, the court said nothing about the DOJ’s position that Website Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0) Level AA is the applicable standard, and we remain unclear on that point.

What Can Your Business Do?

This pending decision, not only further tilts the playing field in favor of disabled plaintiffs, it will certainly give plaintiffs and their attorneys more confidence than they already have in filing website accessibility claims, as it provides ammunition to avoid dismissal pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6). What can be done to minimize liability? This report and recommendation does not change the current situation. Unless they are prepared to dig in for a long and challenging litigation battle, businesses will probably want to assess their websites and undertake efforts to comply with the standards articulated in the private industry Website Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 Levels A and AA, which was adopted by the DOJ in its proposed Interim Final Rule under Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act. 80 Fed. Reg. 10880 (Feb. 27, 2015). While this standard has not been implemented and does not apply to the websites of public accommodations, it is the standard that is consistently identified by the DOJ.  Because the DOJ has announced a delay of at least three years of proposed website access regulations, there is not going to be official clarification anytime soon. Compliance with this standard is likely your best chance of defending claims during this period of uncertainty, made even less certain by these dual reports and recommendations. 

 What Is Next?

As these decisions were merely reports and recommendations, they are not final decisions and are not binding. The parties have 14 days to file objections, and the opposing side has 14 days to respond to objections. These are all considered by the district court before an official opinion is entered. Members of the Disability Access Practice Groupwill continue to monitor developments and provide updates as they develop.

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Website accessibility the emerging litigation threat of 2016 for US companies Website accessibility the emerging litigation threat of 2016 for US companies

February 20th, 2016 by

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ADA Litigation Over Website Accessibility Is Exploding

February 20th, 2016 by

Today, it is nearly unthinkable to run a successful business without a website. While companies focus on the appearance, functionality and usability of their sites, they often inadvertently overlook how well the website interfaces with screen reader and hearing assistive technologies used by those with visual and hearing disabilities. This innocent oversight can invite expensive litigation. For example, the National Federation of the Blind successfully certified a class of disabled individuals who could not access the Target website. The result was a $6 million settlement and the retailer’s commitment to make its website accessible to individuals using assistive technologies.

Recently aggressive demands have been made on companies of all sizes and types. All companies with websites used to sell services or products are at risk. Indeed, a handful of law firms have sent hundreds, if not thousands, of letters to private businesses alleging that their websites are not accessible to disabled individuals and, therefore, in violation of Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Burdensome demands have been made and dozens of lawsuits have been filed, and many more are expected. Often, the demands and lawsuits also include breach of privacy claims.

What does this mean? 
Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act provides “[n]o individual shall be discriminated against on the basis of disability in the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages or accommodations of any place of public accommodation by any person who owns, leases (or leases to) or operates a place of public accommodation(emphasis added).” Historically, a “place of public accommodation” was interpreted to refer to a physical location (i.e., a brick and mortar building or park). However, what this means for non-governmental agency websites is unsettled.

Given that the ADA was passed in 1990, a year before the first website went live, one can argue – and many have argued – that websites do not fall within the scope of the ADA. Indeed, the ADA makes no mention of websites or online services of any type. Nevertheless, several courts have held that websites are considered places of public accommodation and fall within the scope of the ADA. The courts that hold this position differ on whether a website must be tied to a physical location before it falls under the ADA. The Ninth Circuit held that the ADA does not apply to website-only businesses, such as eBay and Netflix.1 However, other district courts, such as the District of Vermont2 and the District of Massachusetts3 have come to the opposite conclusion. The Sixth Circuit, on the other hand, has held that a “place of public accommodation” must be an actual place.4   

The Department of Justice (DOJ), which is tasked with enforcing the ADA, has taken the position that all websites must be accessible to consumers with disabilities even if it is not tied to a physical place of business that is open to the public. In 2010, the DOJ initiated rulemaking in this area by issuing an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking. However, the DOJ has repeatedly set and then canceled release dates for the Final Notice of Proposed Rulemaking concerning website accessibility. In December 2015, the DOJ announced that it will not issue private sector website accessibility regulations under Title III until sometime during the fiscal year 2018.

In short, the ADA is silent in relation to websites, there are no DOJ regulations in this area, circuits are split on whether a website falls under the scope of the ADA and even those courts that have held that a website is a place of public accommodation under the ADA have provided no guidance as to the accessibility requirements. As such, businesses are left to try and figure out how to avoid the onslaught of future DOJ enforcement litigation and private sector litigation in this quickly evolving area.

Hints for an answer exist. In the absence of DOJ regulations, many settlements approved by the DOJ and in civil litigation have implemented the World Wide Web Consortium’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 (WCAG) on how to make a website more accessible. These Guidelines involve varying levels of accessibility, but the DOJ and counsel in civil litigation have signed off on settlements where a company agrees to make their website compliant with the WCAG 2.0 Level AA Guidelines. A customizable reference to the WCAG Guidelines can be found when you click here.

Access to the appropriate guidelines, unfortunately, does not end the analysis. The WCAG Guidelines provide, among other things, information on how to use alternative text (code embedded beneath graphics). Screen reader software that vocalizes that alternative text can be used to provide a description of the website content to the user. Due to the differing functionalities of websites based on computer and browser type, however, it is extremely difficult to make a website completely error free. 

Next Steps. 
Because of burgeoning website accessibility litigation and the desire of most companies to provide a pleasant website experience for their users, businesses with eCommerce websites would be well-served to begin investigating compliance efforts and accessibility issues now.

1.  Earll v. eBay Inc., No. 13-15134 (9th Circ. April 1, 2015) and Cullen v. Netflix Inc,.No. 13-15092 (9th Circ. April 1, 2015).

2.  Nat’l Fed’n of the Blind v. Scribd Inc., No. 2:14-cv-162 at *7-10 (D. Vt. March 19, 2015).

3.  Nat’l Ass’n of the Deaf v. Netflix Inc., 869 F. Supp. 2d 196, 201-02 (D. Mass. 2012).

4.  See, e.g., Parker v. Metropolitan Life Insurance Co., 121 F.3d 1006 (6th Cir.1997) (en banc) (reversing an earlier panel decision and holding that “[t]he clear connotation of the words in § 12181(7) is that a public accommodation is a physical place …. To interpret these terms as permitting a place of accommodation to constitute something other than a physical place is to ignore the text of the statute and the principle of noscitur a sociis”).

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Charlotte Versus Denver in Super Bowl 50 — Both Lose

February 20th, 2016 by

 

PROVIDENCE, RI –(Marketwired – February 03, 2016) – As the kickoff to Super Bowl 50 nears, one can’t help but think about the two teams who worked so hard all season to get to this point and how excited and proud the people who reside in those towns must be. But it also got the folks at the Bureau of Internet Accessibility (BoIA) thinking which city has the most accessibility-friendly website?

BoIA scanned the city sites for both Charlotte and Denver using their A11Y® website accessibility testing platform. In cheap jerseys the report that is produced in this process, grades are assigned to each site in 5 areas, the 4 WCAG 2.0 Principles outlined by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), Perceivable, Operable, Usable and Robust, and then an overall site grade. 

The Operable Principle consists of guidelines that are geared toward the following topics: make all functionality available from a keyboard, give users enough time to read and use content, do not use content that causes seizures, help users navigate and find content.

The results of these scans, which reviewed between 1600 — 1900 Web pages each, were alarming. Under the Operable Principle, Charlotte’s site, www.charmeck.org, scored an F, and Denver’s site, www.denvergov.org, scored a D+. For the full article with report details, CLICK HERE.

While technically, Denver scored better than Charlotte in 3 of the 5 categories, it’s not something that can be called a “win” when the website is not accessible to 20% of the US population who is living with visual, auditory, physical, speech, cognitive, neurological and other disabilities, and may require assistive technology to navigate the Internet. This group may be proud of their hometown teams for making it to the Super Bowl, but if they’re excluded from accessing information equally, more needs to be done to fix the divide.

Just for the record, a scan of the NFL site was performed as well and scored a D+ overall. It’s apparent that noncompliance of the website accessibility guidelines is still an issue that spans across the entire panthers jerseys cheap information superhighway. 

About BoIA, www.boia.org

The Bureau of Internet Accessibility (BOIA) has been helping companies achieve and maintain website accessibility compliancy for over fifteen years. Their personalized approach begins with performing an automated and manual website audit, then providing comprehensive reporting that includes a programmer’s guide citing specific non-compliance issues and best practice remediation recommendations. BoIA’s services also comprise of ongoing client support, collaborating with their clients as the accessibility subject matter experts and performing consistent ad hoc testing, staff training and consultative services. For more information, email contact@boia.org. For a WCAG 2.0 Summary Analysis of your site, CLICK HERE.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION PLEASE CONTACT: 

Contact BoIA

contact@boia.org

Read more: http://www.benzinga.com/pressreleases/16/02/m6209250/charlotte-versus-denver-in-super-bowl-50-both-lose#ixzz40hHBCYuX

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