Celebrating GAAD with innovation and legal clout by Rosemary Musachio

Celebrating GAAD With Innovation and Legal Clout by Rosemary Musachio5 min read

Ruh Global Communications Blogs, Rosemary Musachio

Today, May 16, we celebrate Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD).  As the name suggests, GAAD highlights all that is and should be accessible.  By promoting these ideals through innovations and legal action, the public will continue to open their minds further to what we, individuals with disabilities need to strive in society.  

Accessibility through Technology

During this past year, new technology has been developed to make people’s lives more accessible.  For example, Google introduced Live Captionsand Live Transcribefor persons who are deaf or hearing impaired. Live Transcribe is an app that transcribes real-time conversation on an Android phone.  So if you’re in a store and you can’t hear what the salesperson is saying to you, you can ask them to speak into your phone and their verbal words would convert into text.  Live Captions converts spoken audio of videos into captions automatically.  It also works in a video chat!

In the past year, persons with speech impairments also have benefited from new technology advancements. One such innovation is Voiceitt.  The app converts unclear speech into understandable words.  Nobody will ever again say they can’t understand someone with cerebral palsy or a stroke.  With Voiceitt, the person with the speech impairment can operate computer software and appliances through this speech recognition app.

Between 2018 and 2019, innovations have been made to help persons with physical impairments as well. Ikea, the international furniture store chain, has embarked on a project called ThisAblesthat makes furniture more usable and comfortable for individuals who have trouble walking or using their hands.  Because wheelchair users have difficulty to transfer on and off standard low sofas, Ikea offers raised couches and armchairs.  If you want to raise the one you already have, you can purchase couch lifts that connect to the bottom of it.  Other accessible furniture and accessories that Ikea sells include raised beds, tables where wheelchairs can slide under, curtain grippers to make pulling curtains easier for persons with dexterity impairments, and easy handles to use with the whole hand or forearm instead of fingers to pull doors or drawers.

Accessibility Through The Legal System

Legal rulings also have been made to allow persons with disabilities to patronize businesses, both online and in person, more easily.  Since two years ago, web accessibility lawsuits have triple.  In 2018, 10,000 ADA lawsuits were filed compared to The rise is because the Americans with Disabilities Act (ACT) doesn’t specify web accessibility.  Is a website considered a public accommodation?  According to winning cases of plaintiffs with disabilities or organizations representing them, websites definitely are public entities. Some examples of winning lawsuits include:

  • Rubles Vs. Domino’s Pizza: In January 2019, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that websites and apps does fall under the ADA.  Although Rubles, who’s blind and uses a screen reader, said the pizza chain’s website weren’t WCAG 2.0 (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) compliant, it’s “equitable” to ADA.  The ruling stated that the website and app are “services of public accommodation, not services in a place of public accommodations”.
  • Whisper Restaurant and Lounge: In May 2018, a California state court ruled that the restaurant’s website violated California’s Unruh Civil Rights Act by not being accessible to screen reader users.  The court ordered Whisper to comply with WCAG 2.0 and stated that its website “falls within the category of ‘services….privileges, advantages, or accommodations of’ a restaurant, which is a place of public accommodation under the ADA.”  What’s interesting about this case is that the defendant claimed it provided equal access by providing an e-mail address and a phone number.
  • The National Association of the Deaf (NAD) vs. Harvard and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT): The Massachusetts denied twice the universities’ request to dismiss a lawsuit filed by NAD.  According to NAD, videos on the Harvard’s and MIT’s websites don’t have captions for persons who are deaf or hard of hearing.  Besides the ADA, the court stated that the universities also violate Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act since they receive federal funding for disability programs.

ADA lawsuits have been filed against other companies, such as Amazon and Apple, also had filed ADA lawsuits against them for inaccessible websites.  They have been smart enough, however, to settle and adhere to WCAG 2.0. 

Accessibility shouldn’t be celebrated only today but everyday.  Technology and legal action are vehicles to get it realized.  If society keeps an open mind and heart, these vehicles will continue to function.

At Ruh Global Communications we are always looking at ways to advance the efforts for providing growth and inclusion for persons with disabilities in all sectors, including the healthcare sector.  Feel free to contact us to see how we can help you and your organization with inclusion. For more information about our services, please visit our website at; www.RuhGlobal.com

References

Websites and other Title III Hit Record Numbers

CA Court Rules Unruh Act Requires Website to Conform to WCAG 2.0 AA, But Denies Damages for Multiple Visits to Website

Legal Battle Over Captioning Continues

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