Letter to Assistant Attorney General Clarke-DOJ Web Rulemaking

February 28, 2022


The Honorable Kristen Clarke

United States Assistant Attorney General

U.S. Department of Justice

Civil Rights Division

950 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.

Washington, DC 20530

Dear Assistant Attorney General Clarke:

The 181 undersigned disability organizations believe that there is an urgent need for digital accessibility regulations. We urge the Department of Justice to maintain this rulemaking process as a priority and finalize a rule by the end of the current administration.

The US Department of Justice has long held that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) includes websites and other technologies that are critical to accessing a business’s or agency’s services or facilities but has failed to define when and how they should be accessible. In 2018, the Department reconfirmed its position that the ADA applies to the internet but never completed rulemakings that were begun in 2010 under Titles II and III of the ADA and withdrawn in 2017. Meanwhile, courts have diverged in interpreting when and how the ADA should apply to the internet, and business groups are on the record seeking clear standards that clarify their obligations under the ADA.

In 2016, the National Council on Disability (NCD) recommended that the Department of Justice issue a notice of proposed rulemaking that reinforces that the ADA applies to the internet. NCD also recommended that multiple agencies complete existing rulemakings and initiate new rulemakings on accessibility of various types of information and communication technology (ICT), including web content, applications, hardware, and software. The absence of digital accessibility regulations in the intervening time period has resulted in persistent exclusion of people with disabilities from digital spaces covered by the ADA.

Recent research has shown the breadth of barriers that people with disabilities face. Several studies find persistent barriers in telehealth accessibility. A study of 74 Deaf participants who had recently used telehealth found that 65% of participants experienced communications accessibility barriers. Deaf patients frequently experience the inability to connect remote medical interpreters or real-time captioners through the secure telehealth platform, the inability to see the provider on video, and other technical issues, including poor audio quality. Another study found that of 285 blind and low vision participants who had used telehealth to meet with their healthcare provider, 21% reported the telehealth platform was not accessible with their assistive technology, and preliminary data from a forthcoming study suggests that the number could exceed 50% a year later. Moreover, while there are no studies directly examining the telehealth experiences of DeafBlind people, anecdotal reports suggest that the vast majority of DeafBlind people are completely unable to utilize telehealth as it currently exists.

The challenges are present in every sector of society. Nearly 60% of the educators surveyed in a Fall 2020 study reported their blind and low vision students could not access one or more of the digital learning tools they were expected to use in class. A 2022 study found that about 50% of survey respondents experienced accessibility challenges when filling out electronic onboarding paperwork. Moreover, an annual automated analysis demonstrates how common inaccessibility barriers are, finding that of one million webpages reviewed in 2021, 97% had accessibility issues, and an average of 50 errors appeared on every page.


These findings are neither exhaustive of all website-related issues nor comprehensive of the entire disability community. The disability community is large and diverse, facing access issues that continue to grow and evolve with the ever-changing landscape of websites and applications. While the studies cited primarily explored the experiences of people with sensory disabilities, accessibility issues are pervasive, frequent, and harmful for people with other disabilities as well.

The scale of inaccessibility and its impact on access to nearly every type of web or application-based activity necessitates regulatory action. As the COVID-19 pandemic has made abundantly clear, we live in a society that increasingly lives and works through digital tools and online spaces. When websites and applications are inaccessible, people with disabilities cannot apply for jobs, work efficiently, attend school, access healthcare, schedule a ride, shop, find public health information, apply for public benefits, and more.

We remind you that Congress intends the ADA to cover the internet and applications. We urge you to continue the rulemaking process at a pace that ensures a rule can be finalized by the end of the current administration. Thank you for your consideration and work on behalf of people with disabilities.


Sincerely,


American Council of the Blind, Clark Rachfal, CRachfal@acb.org

American Foundation for the Blind, Stephanie Enyart, SEnyart@afb.org

National Disability Rights Network, Claire Stanley, Claire.Stanley@ndrn.org

National Federation of the Blind, John Pare, JPare@nfb.org

ACB Diabetics In Action

ACB Government Employees

ACB Radio Amateurs

ACBT

Access Living of Metropolitan Chicago

Access Ready

Accessible Avenue

Accessible Pharmacy Services for the Blind

Alabama Disabilities Advocacy Program

Alabama Institute for the Deaf and Blind

Alliance for Aging Research

Alliance on Aging and Vision Loss

Alphapointe

American Association of People with Disabilities

American Association on Health and Disability

American Association of Kidney Patients (AAKP)

American Council of Blind Families

American Council of Blind Students (ACBS)

American Council of the Blind of Indiana

American Council of the Blind of Maryland

American Council of the Blind of Ohio

American Council of the Blind-Texas

American Printing House for the Blind (APH)

American Samoa Protection and Advocacy for the Disabled

Arizona Center for Disability Law

Arkansas Council of the Blind

Assistive Technology Industry Association

Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired

Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired South Carolina

Association for Vision Rehabilitation and Employment, Inc.

Association of Assistive Technology Act Program

Association of Late-Deafened Adults, Inc. (ALDA)

Association of University Centers on Disabilities

Atlantis Community, Inc.

Autistic Self Advocacy Network

Autistic Women & Nonbinary Network

Axis Advocacy

Bay State Council of the Blind

Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law

Bender Consulting Services

Bestwork Industries for the Blind Inc

Beyond Vision

Blind & Vision Rehabilitation Services

Blind Early Services of Tennessee (BEST)

Blue Water League of the Blind

Bosma Enterprises

CAST

CCABVI (Chester County Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired)

Center for Independence of the Disabled, NY

Center for Public Representation

Colorado Cross-Disability Coalition

CommunicationFIRST

Cure SMA

Davis Phinney Foundation for Parkinson's

Deaf In Government (DIG)

Deaf Seniors of America

Disabiity Community Resource Center

Disability Law Center of Alaska

Disability Law Center of Massachusetts

Disability Law Center of Utah

Disability Policy Consortium

Disability Rights Advocates

Disability Rights Arkansas

Disability Rights California

Disability Rights Center - NH

Disability Rights Center of the Virgin Islands

Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund

Disability Rights Florida

Disability Rights Iowa

Disability Rights Maryland

Disability Rights Michigan

Disability Rights New Jersey

Disability Rights North Carolina

Disability Rights Ohio

Disability Rights Pennsylvania

Disability Rights South Carolina

Disability Rights TN

Disability Rights Vermont

Ensight Skills Center, Inc for visual rehabilitation

Envision Workforce Innovation Center

Epilepsy Foundation of America

Equip for Equality

Family Voices

Florida Council of the Blind

Golden Triangle Council of the Blind

Goodwill of the Finger Lakes - ABVI Goodwill

Guide Dog Users, Inc.

Guide Dogs for the Blind

Hawaii Association of the Blind

Hawaii Disability Rights Center

Hearing Loss Association of America

Helen Keller Services

Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy Association

IBVI

IFB Solutions

Illinois Council of the Blind

Indiana Disability Rights

IN-SIGHT

International Foundation for Autoimmune & Autoinflammatory Arthritis (AiArthritis)

International Pemphigus Pemphigoid Foundation

Iowa Council of the United Blind

iYellow Access

Justice in Aging

Kentucky Council of the Blind Next Generation

Kentucky Council of the Blind

Kentucky Protection and Advocacy

Knowbility

Lakeshore Foundation

Lift Vision Services

LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired

Lighthouse Louisiana

Lilac Services for the Blind

Lions Industries for the Blind, Inc.

Livpact

Mental Health America

Michigan Council of the Blind and Visually Impaired

Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid - Minnesota Disability Law Center

Missouri Council of the Blind

MitoAction

Mountain State Council of the Blind

National Association of Councils on Developmental Disabilities

National Association of Employment for People Who are Blind

National Association of the Deaf

National Black Deaf Advocates, Inc

National Council on Independent Living

National Disability Institute

National Industries for the Blind

Native American Disability Law Center

NBIA Disorders Association

Nevada Disability Advocacy and Law Center

New Jersey Council of the Blind

New York Association of Psychiatric Rehabilitation Services

New York Vision Rehabilitation Association

NewView Oklahoma

North Carolina Council of the Blind

North Central Sight Services, Inc.

North Dakota Association of the Blind Inc.

North Dakota Protection & Advocacy Project

Not Dead Yet

Oklahoma Council of the Blind

Oklahoma Disability Law Center

Organic Acidemia Association

Paralyzed Veterans of America

Partnership to Improve Patient Care

Pennsylvania Council of the Blind

Perkins School for the Blind

Prevent Blindness

Randolph Sheppard Vendors of America

RespectAbility

San Antonio Lighthouse for the Blind

South Central Kentucky Council of the Blind

South Dakota Association of the Blind

Southern Indiana Center for Independent Living, INC dba The Solutions Center

St. Louis Lighthouse for the Blind

Syngap1 Foundation

Teach Access

Telecommunications for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, Inc. (TDI)

The Advocacy Institute

The Arc of the United States

The Coelho Center for Disability Law, Policy and Innovation

The Lighthouse for the Blind, Inc.

The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research

The National Research & Training Center on Blindness & Low Vision

The New York Institute for Special Education

The Partnership for Inclusive Disaster Strategies

The Seeing Eye, Inc

Travis Association for the Blind

United Cerebral Palsy

United Spinal Association

VHL Alliance

VIA Visually Impaired Advancement

VisionCorps

VISIONS/Services for the Blind and Visually Impaired

Visually Impaired Preschool Services (VIPS)

Washington Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs

Wayfinder Family Services

World Institute on Disability


cc: Attorney General Merrick B. Garland, U.S. Department of Justice



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