Welcome to the Washington Connection, the legislative and information service of the American Council of the Blind. The Washington Connection is brought to you by the ACB national office. If you have any questions or comments on the information provided, don’t hesitate to contact us and ask to speak with Swatha Nandhakumar.
The Washington Connection is updated any time we have new information to share with you. The following articles are available as of May 16, 2022. Messages 3 and 6 are new.
- Special Thanks Following Ukrainian Benefit Concert
- ACB Walk Site Now Live — Sign Up Today
- New! DOJ Alleged UC Berkeley Violates ADA By Providing Inaccessible Online Content
- Senator Markey and Rep. Porter Introduce Disabled Jurors Nondiscrimination Act
- Justice Department Settles with CVS
- New! EEOC and DOJ Release Guidance on Disability Discrimination with AI
- ACB Comments on the AbilityOne Draft Strategic Plan
- Guidance on Web Accessibility and the ADA
Thank you for calling the Washington Connection.
ACB thanks all those who joined in and donated for the April 16th “We’re With You” benefit concert for Ukrainians who are blind and impacted by the current conflict. Over 111 blind musicians and their allies performed for the event, which ran over 11 hours. The event has raised over $92,000 to date, including over $6,000 raised through the www.acb.org/ukraine website. The event will be rebroadcast on ACB Media. Stay tuned for information on how you can listen again to this historic event!
Registration is now open for the 2022 ACB Brenda Dillon Memorial Walk. Sign up now as an individual or team, or join an already existing team. Sign up at https://secure.qgiv.com/event/a2w/. Proceeds support ACB national along with state and special-interest affiliates. We’ll walk our way to the opening session of the 61st annual ACB Conference and Convention on July 3rd at 6 p.m. Central time, and there will be virtual walks across the country that evening as well. So, let’s all walk together wherever we may be as we raise awareness on the importance walking plays toward living a healthy and independent life.
After conducting an investigation, the Department of Justice issued a Letter of Findings against UC Berkeley, concluding that UC Berkeley’s online content is inaccessible to individuals with disabilities in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). UC Berkeley creates and publishes free online content, including courses on its UC BerkeleyX platform, as well as audio and video content featuring conferences, lectures, sporting events, graduation ceremonies, and other university events or programming on its YouTube and Apple Podcasts channels. UC Berkeley’s online content is made available to the public, but much of it is inaccessible to individuals with hearing, vision, and manual disabilities. If you have tried to access UC Berkeley’s online content but were unable to do so because it is inaccessible, please email the Department of Justice at [email protected].
The Department’s Letter of Findings explained that some of UC Berkeley’s visual online content does not provide an alternative way to access images or visual information (e.g., graphs, charts, animations, or hyperlinks on slides), such as audio description or alternative text, which makes it inaccessible to people with vision disabilities. Audio description is the verbal description of a visual image (for example, a picture or scene from a movie or play) in order to provide essential information to individuals with vision disabilities. Similarly, alternative text conveys the content and function of an image, including pictures, illustrations, or charts, to individuals with vision disabilities so that they can understand the image. The letter also explained that UC Berkeley’s online content also includes documents and links that are inaccessible to screen readers or are not keyboard-accessible because of improper formatting. As a result, the documents and links are inaccessible to individuals with vision or manual disabilities, including those who use screen readers or who do not use a mouse.
The letter also explained that much of UC Berkeley’s online content includes videos without captions or videos with automated captions (typically referred to as automatic captions) that are inaccurate, lack punctuation or proper grammar, and are difficult or impossible to understand. As a result, the audio content on the video is inaccessible to people with hearing disabilities.
The Department of Justice is interested in speaking with individuals with disabilities who have faced barriers in accessing UC Berkeley’s free, online content. Please email us at [email protected].
On March 29th, Sen. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and Rep. Katie Porter (D-Calif.) introduced The Disabled Jurors Nondiscrimination Act, legislation that prohibits excluding a person from federal jury service on account of disability. H.R. 7278 is the House version; the Senate version is S. 3942.
Currently, federal law prohibits excluding an individual from jury service on account of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, or economic status. The new legislation adds the word “disability” alongside those protected characteristics.
The bill also clarifies provisions of federal law governing juror qualifications, by amending the statute under which jurors are qualified to serve unless they are “unable to read, write, and understand the English language with a degree of proficiency sufficient to fill out satisfactorily the juror qualification form” or “unable to speak the English language.” The bill clarifies that no person may be disqualified from serving on a federal jury under those provisions on account of disability. Under the bill, it would be clear that a person who uses braille or sign language is not “unable to read, write, and understand the English language” or “unable to speak the English language.” Twenty-three states already have statutes that prohibit exclusion and/or disqualification from state jury service on account of a disability, including both Massachusetts and California.
A copy of the legislation can be found at https://www.markey.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/sil22489.pdf. A copy of the one-pager can be found at https://www.markey.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/disabled_jurors_nondiscrimination_act_one-pager.pdf.
Additional co-sponsors of this bill in the Senate include Senators Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Bob Casey (D-Penn.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). Additional co-sponsors of this bill in the House include Representatives Dina Titus (D-Nev.), Mary Gay Scanlon (D-Pa.), Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), and Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.).
The Justice Department today announced that it has secured a settlement agreement with CVS Pharmacy, Inc., that will help people with disabilities get information about COVID-19 vaccinations and book their vaccination appointments online. The agreement, which requires CVS to conform its COVID-19 vaccine content to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines Version 2.1, will help ensure that individuals with disabilities who use screen readers and those who have difficulty using a mouse can privately and independently book their potentially life-saving vaccination appointments online. Today’s resolution is the department’s fifth agreement on the critical issue of COVID-19 vaccination website accessibility, following a November 2021 settlement with Rite Aid Corporation; a December 2021 settlement with Hy-Vee, Inc.; a January 2022 settlement with The Kroger Co.; and a February 2022 settlement with Meijer, Inc. To find out more about this agreement or the ADA, visit ada.gov or call the Justice Department’s toll-free ADA information line at 1-800-514-0301 or 1-800-514-0383 (TDD).
Yesterday, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the U.S. Department of Justice released guidance on disability discrimination when employers use artificial intelligence (AI) or similar computer software both in hiring and on the job. Employers who use AI or algorithms to screen job applicants, monitor employees’ performance at work, or score resumes risk violating the Americans with Disabilities Act if reasonable accommodations are not made for disabled applicants and employees. The EEOC released technical guidelines for employers using AI technology that outlines things they should consider so as not to discriminate against job seekers and employees with disabilities. The guidelines focus on making sure reasonable accommodations are in place, making sure applicants are not screened out of any job or promotion on the basis of disability, and making sure employees or applicants are not asked about disabilities or medical conditions when they should not be under the ADA.
The DOJ guidance provides an overview of rights and responsibilities for both the employer and job candidates. The guidance provides information on the tools and technology employers are using in hiring, clarifies that employers have a responsibility to consider how their tools and technology affect disabled job seekers, explains employers’ obligations under the ADA with regard to using AI and related software, including reasonable accommodations, and provides guidance for employees who believe they have been discriminated against by their employer.
To read the full guidelines from the EEOC, visit https://www.eeoc.gov/laws/guidance/americans-disabilities-act-and-use-software-algorithms-and-artificial-intelligence.
To read the full guidelines from the DOJ, visit https://beta.ada.gov/ai-guidance/.
If you believe that you have been discriminated against due to your disability as an employee or job applicant through the use of artificial intelligence or similar computer software programs, please contact ACB’s Advocacy Team at [email protected].
The American Council of the Blind, along with the National Federation of the Blind, American Foundation for the Blind, National Industries for the Blind, VisionServe Alliance, and National Association for the Employment of People who are Blind, submitted comments in response to the AbilityOne Commission’s Request for Comment on its draft strategic plan for Fiscal Years 2022 to 2026. ACB’s comments are below.
The American Council of the Blind thanks the AbilityOne Commission (Commission) for the opportunity to comment on the FY 2022-2026 draft Strategic Plan. Since 1938, the Javits-Wagner-O’Day Act and the AbilityOne Program have sought to provide employment for people who are blind and low vision. As the Commission seeks ways to modernize the AbilityOne Program, people with disabilities, including people who are blind and low vision, must be included in the conversation to determine whether any proposed reforms meet the needs of the disability community.
ACB is a leading national consumer-driven advocacy organization for people who are blind and experiencing vision loss. Comprised of more than 65 state and special-interest affiliates, and in existence for more than 60 years, ACB strives to increase the independence, security, equality of opportunity, and to improve quality of life for all blind and visually impaired people in the United States. Integral to ACB’s mission of increasing independence and quality of life is ensuring equitable access to employment and vocational training for people who are blind and experiencing vision loss. The goal of ACB and our members is to modernize the mission and intent of the AbilityOne Program to ensure it is meeting the needs of our members and the broader community of those who are blind and low vision.
We support the AbilityOne Program’s efforts to end the practice of paying people with disabilities less than the minimum wage, and support the AbilityOne Commission issuing a final rule to codify this change in policy. In addition to eliminating the use of subminimum wages from the AbilityOne Program, the Commission must require that all blind and low vision employees participating in the AbilityOne Program are classified as employees and receive the benefits, rights and protections of all other employees, regardless of what is permissible under state or federal law.
The Commission must require the employment and engagement of people who are blind and severely disabled at all levels of the AbilityOne Program, not only as part of the direct labor workforce. These requirements shall apply to affiliated Non-Profit Agencies and Central Non-Profit Agencies of the AbilityOne Program. The AbilityOne Commission and AbilityOne Central Non-Profit Agencies must become model employers of people who are blind, low vision, and severely disabled.
The AbilityOne Commission and the Office of the Inspector General must be fully funded and supported to conduct rigorous oversight to ensure trust in the AbilityOne Program.
The Commission must implement the Biden Administrations Executive Order 14035: Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Accessibility in the Federal Workforce throughout the AbilityOne Program. The AbilityOne Program must require that all participating entities include accessibility requirements when procuring workplace technology to ensure full participation and benefit for employees and consumers with disabilities. Specifically, the websites, online systems, and content of all participating entities shall be accessible to and usable by persons with disabilities, including persons using screen readers, in accordance with established accessibility standards.
We thank you for the opportunity to comment on the AbilityOne Commission’s draft Strategic Plan. If there are any questions regarding these comments, please contact Clark Rachfal, ACB’s Director of Advocacy and Governmental Affairs: [email protected], (202) 467-5081.
On March 18th, the United States Department of Justice released guidance on how state and local governments and businesses can make their websites accessible to individuals with disabilities as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act. The DOJ provides guidance on website accessibility for blind and low vision individuals, deaf and hard of hearing individuals, individuals with physical disabilities, and individuals with other disabilities on topics like screen reader accessibility, including alt-text and audio description for videos, closed captioning, and keyboard accessibility. The department also refers to other online accessibility resources like the Web Content Accessibility (WCAG) and its own Section 508 standards used by the federal government. The full guidance can be found at https://beta.ada.gov/web-guidance/. ACB applauds the release of these guidelines and urges the DOJ to promulgate regulations by the end of the Biden administration’s first term. We will continue to work with our partners, National Federation of the Blind, American Foundation for the Blind, National Disability Rights Network, and Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund in advocating for both a legislation and an administrative approach to website accessibility.