All too often I hear software vendors, businesses of all types, individual product managers/ developers etc. say “We don’t have blind or deaf customers. Sure it would be nice to have a website/ application/ offering that would work for them, but we just don’t have the demand.”
This is about legal. It’s a true story based on a single blind person’s request for accommodation, failure to get the needed accommodation and how the Seattle Public School system is paying a higher than necessary price to offer that accommodation.
The story begins in July, 2012 when Noel Nightingale, mother of three children in the Seattle Public School district and a person who is blind and relies on the JAWS screen reader to access the web could no longer navigate effectively through the Seattle Public School website. There had been an update to the website which made formerly accessible links and forms available to Ms. Nightingale unusable for her.
Despite engaging the webmaster to restore accessibility and having promises that that would be done there was no material change. Additionally her middle child was placed with his peers into a new online math program, ST Math. This innovative math teaching program relies on visual inputs. While this may be great for a person with sight, as a blind parent, Ms. Nightingale was not able to monitor his progress at home, which is part of the school’s expectation.
Finally, with a second child in the ST Math program, with the Seattle Public School district website still inaccessible a lawsuit was brought to get relief. This is the full text of the motion for preliminary injunction brought in US District Court in Washington state. The injunction was filed in October, 2014 after approximately a year and a half of less formal but ongoing negotiations.
In September, 2015 the Seattle School Board voted to enter into a consent decree to fix the issues. This is a 3 1/2 year long decree which is estimated will cost the district between $665k and $815K to implement. It had previously been estimated that it would cost @ $90K to fix the website.
Part of the settlement is to hire an Accessibility Coordinator. Job anyone?
As soon as your content includes videos you should be thinking about captioning. In the simplest form, captioning is those words on the screen that are readable as the audio portion of the program is spoken. The idea is that captioning is only useful for deaf or people who are hard of hearing. Not true. An oft quoted survey from the UK done in 2006 revealed that 80% of TV viewers who used closed captioning did not have hearing difficulties. Times have changed, technology has advanced, yet many people without any hearing loss use captioning as a way to enhance/ enjoy videos. They listen in a public area and don’t want to disturb others, on a noisy subway and they situationally can’t hear the sound or they get more out of the content if they can watch and read the words at the same time (dual sensory input).
The law: The US Congress passed a Twenty-First Century Communications and Accessibility Act in 2010, with a string of updates and clarifications through 2015. Two broad areas are covered. One is products and services that use Broadband. The other is video programming on television and the internet.
In February, 2015, National Association for the Deaf (NAD) and some individuals sued Harvard and MIT over lack of captioning or very poor captioning of the video content they provide, covering online lectures, podcasts, courses and more. In June, 2015, the Department of Justice (DOJ) joined the lawsuit advocating a speedy resolution and captioning be provided.
Netflix has lead the way to providing full captioning, even though it was, regretfully, a result of a successful lawsuit. YouTube provides an automated captioning option. The results, while technically over 90% accurate lead to, often hilarious (if you are able to hear the discrepancies) wildly incongruous word juxtapositions. If you doubt me, just switch on captioning when you are on YouTube next and find your own examples. Any time a person mumbles or has the slightest speech anomaly or accent there is no telling how the automated captioning will record it.
So, to caption or not to caption? When in doubt, decent captioning should be built into your process, including everyone and building your brand as inclusive.