With Rebecca Bond, Chief, Disability Rights Section, Civil Rights Division, U.S. Department of Justice Moderated by Lainey Feingold, Disability Rights Lawyer and Author, Law Office of Lainey Feingold
OCTOBER 25, 2022
11:00 AM ET
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FRANCESCA CESA BIANCHI: Good morning. If you would please take your seat, we are about to start our new session.
It is my pleasure this morning to introduce to you the Fireside Chat with Rebecca Bond, Chief Disability Rights Section of the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, and the chat will be moderated by Lainey Feingold, Disability Rights Lawyer and Author, Law Office of Lainey Feingold. The floor is yours. Thank you.
LAINEY FEINGOLD: Thank you, Francesca. Hello! Good morning, everyone. My name is Lainey Feingold as Francesca said. First of all, I want to thank G3ict and Axel and Francesca for having this panel and bringing Rebecca and I here to talk about the Department of Justice, and I was thinking how do I want to start this? I'm a disability rights lawyer. I've been in the digital accessibility space since 1995. My visual description for people who don't see me is that I'm a White woman and my most salient visual feature is my gray hair, which I tie into the fact that I have been in this space since 1995.
And you know, throughout that whole time, the Department of Justice has been there as an ally to me as an advocate. I do collaboration to improve accessibility, and this morning on the stage, Clark said the Department of Justice has recognized the connection between the ADA and Web Accessibility for 26 years, and I always start with that too because in 1996, be the Department of Justice said covered entities under the ADA are required to provide effective communication, regardless of whether they communicate through print media, audio media, or computerized media such as the Internet. That was 1996.
I have a website which is LFlegal.com and I have a legal update tab and can you look at that update tab at articles about things the Department of Justice has done this whole time, since that 1996 statement in a letter from Deval Patrick, and the letter came to Senator Harkin who asked that question, is this new law related to technology?
Then I was thinking the DOJ has been there all this time, but the DOJ is not a building. The DOJ is not a Twitter account. The DOJ is the people who do the work in the building, who do the work behind the Twitter account. So, I am like really excited today that we have one of those people here on the stage at M Enabling 10th Anniversary, Rebecca Bond, who is, I said to her, Rebecca, if I don't have your title off the tip of my tongue, I'm going to give it to you to say. She has a wonderful title. We're really excited to be in a conversation together. We want to bring you all into the conversation so we're going to have time for questions, both during and at the end. So, I'm turning it over to Rebecca to introduce yourself.
REBECCA BOND: Thank you so much, Lainey. Thank you for agreeing to moderate or sort of engage in this Fireside Chat that we have without a fire. So, I'm Rebecca Bond. I am Chief of the Disability Rights Section. My visual description is I'm a middle aged Black woman with brown hair, and I wanted to give you a little bit of my background, and I think as Lainey correctly said, the Department of Justice, we do have a big building, (Laughing), which you can see. But it's not really about the building. It's about the people.
And so I've been at the Department of Justice for 22 years, and that represents 5 administrations. I actually started during the Clinton Administration and I've worn several different hats, but exclusively within the Civil Rights Division at the Department of Justice.
So, I spent 13 years doing all litigation, all sort of suing people who were violating the Fair Housing Act. I did that for 13 years before I became Chief of the Disability Rights Section. So I come with a strong background, and then chief as Disability Section and a couple of stints in what is called our front office which is really sort of the political wing be of the Civil Rights Digs, so I did one stint during the Trump Administration and one during the Biden Administration, and one of the things that I think is abundantly clear or has become abundantly clear to me during the time of my disability rights work is perhaps nothing is more fundamental to the future of disability rights work than technology and accessible technology.
And I know that folks have a lot of questions about what we're doing in our regulatory space, and I know folks want Lainey to ask me really tough questions, and you guys want to ask me really tough questions. So, you can ask, but I just want to let you know that there is very little that I can say in that space. We really can't go beyond what's in the unified agenda that's out there.
So, I just want to sort of set expectations. What I often times say about folks from the Department of Justice is that we really are awful conversationalists, but we are great listeners. So, if there are things that you want to convey, I can listen, but I may not be able to answer your questions.
LAINEY FEINGOLD: I'm glad Rebecca said that because within the first 10 minutes of entering the hotel, three people came and said are you going to ask about the regulations, what's she going to say about the regulations. I felt pressure to be a 60 Minute's reporter and get the scoop that's not there. I respect the limitations on any public officials who can say and what they can't say. Thank you for starting with that and level setting.
We are going to talk about the regulations, which I know is top of mind, but there are a lot of things that department the justice does to enforce and advance accessibility in the digital space, so let's just start with an overview of that, and then we'll do a deeper dive into some of the things.
REBECCA BOND: Sure. We have a very broad mandate. We have, write regular regulations under Title II and III under the ADA. We do law enforcement, we receive individual complaints and do compliance reviews. We work under Title I of the ADA that deals with employment, Title II of the ADA which prohibits discrimination by public entities, state and local governments, and we of course enforce Title III of the ADA that involves local governments. There are millions and millions of businesses and there are infinite ADA violations, and so we can't possibly get to everything, but I have to say that digital accessibility has been a focus and will continue be to be a focus of my office.
We also have a technical assistance mandate, and as much as I have an enforcement background, I realize it is far, far better for people to understand their rights and understand their responsibilities and advocate for themselves and to voluntarily comply with the law than it is for us to take people to court or initiate an enforcement action.
And so we use our technical assistance as a mechanism to help folks comply with the law and to help folks advocate for themselves, so we have we put out guidance, we have a website, ADA.gov, which I can talk about in a little bit, we also have a technical assistance line where folks can call and ask questions. And digital accessibility is really a piece of each of those aspects of our work. We answer calls related to digital accessible, we receive complaints, we put out guidance. It certainly is woven into the fabric of pretty much everything that we do.
LAINEY FEINGOLD: And the regulations and the regulatory power which we'll get to in a bit. But I want to start with the guidance because over my career, sometimes I thought oh, the guidance, you know especially for people in the space. Like we all in this room know so much but like Gary Moore said in the question about 508, there are still people who don't know how to make a Word document accessible who are in government agencies, so some of the guidance, I just try to put a filter through myself, I think, oh, my God doesn't everybody know this? No, everybody doesn't know it. So, I think the guidance piece of the work that you do is really important, and if the last six months, there has been two digital accessibility guidance’s, so let's take them one at a time. The first you announced at CSUN in March the web accessibility one. Do you want to say something about that?
REBECCA BOND: Sure. This is meant really to explain how state and local governments and businesses can make sure that their websites are accessible to people with disabilities in line with the ADA. So, when you look at this guidance, it is really focused, we really focused in crafting it on plain language and making it very understandable.
You know, we know folks like Lainey, and many folks in this room, have very sophisticated understanding of the law and what it requires, but a lot of, you know, small business owners or folks who work in state and local governments or people with disabilities may not really understand what this means. And so what we really tried to do with this piece is to make it digestible and understandable to those end users.
So, it's kind of a little bit different than some of the guidance that we've put out in the past. One of the things that I did want to note about the guidance is it does reaffirm the long standing position at that we have that state and local governments must make all their services, programs, and activities, including their websites, including those offered on the web accessible. The same is true for businesses as well, that we repeat the long standing position that the ADA requirements apply to all of the goods, services, privileges, or activities offered by public accommodations, including those on the web. This is a recent statement, echoing a position that we took in 1996, and so this has indeed been our long standing position.
LAINEY FEINGOLD: For those of you, I don't think we just said what is it is. Then the second one even more sophisticated and I was even more excited about because it's not talked about that often, one with a longer name titled algorithms, artificial intelligence, and disability discrimination in higher ed. They put it out simultaneously and there is a press release from both of them, and it just seemed very refreshing, to be honest, for those of us who are experienced with we saw the web accessibility, like we said doesn't everybody know this? When we saw the algorithmic hiring one, we know not everybody knows it, so can you talk a little about how that came about and what it is?
REBECCA BOND: Sure. I think one of the things that I personally love most about being a disability rights lawyer is that you really do have to keep an eye on the future, on what technologies are coming down the pike, which is in part why conferences are like this are so helpful. And so, you know, one of the things that we found in this space, sort of the you know, the possible discrimination from algorithmic decision making, is that folks weren't necessarily aware, and this was really meant to kind of sound the alarm bell.
And I think what you'll see if you look at the two pieces that were put out at the same time, the Department of Justice piece and the EEOC piece. The EEOC piece is sort of a little bit more focused for lawyers and kind of goes, you know, sort of into sort of deeper detail.
Our piece was again really focused on trying to make what is potentially quite a complicated area digestible to folks with disabilities and to covered entities because you can just imagine that, I know, there are plenty of state and local governments out there that say might acquire something that is sort of, you know, based on an algorithm or AI thinking that they're being more fair. Right. Thinking that this will take away any bias. But not recognizing that some of these algorithms and AI may have bias baked in. They rely on training data, that if you don't have folks with disabilities in that data, then the algorithm may never have seen it before. If you imagine if you're being judged on how you interview and how you answer questions, somebody with a speech disability may get, you know, screened out or excluded and they may not know it. Or the folks who are using the technology may not know it. And so this is really, our piece was really meant to make folks aware of this type of discrimination in plain language and hopefully as understandable as we can make it, given the complexity of the topic.
LAINEY FEINGOLD: Yeah. I wrote an article about this, that's why I was checking my email, I was looking for the article that I wrote so I could share it with you because I have a link and can you read both, and my website again is LFlegal.com and can you find this in the Legal Update Tab and the actual art is called to U.S. Government Agencies Warn about Hiring Technology that Discriminates against Disabled Applicants. There is a really good, and I don't want to say idea, but the recognition in there that the covered entities are responsible for what they buy.
REBECCA BOND: They are. They are.
LAINEY FEINGOLD: That is the subject of accessible procurement that is so near and dear to our hearts across sectors because we know in technology, everybody is buying it. You know, everybody is buying it. So, I thought you did a great job in that guidance, and I can't remember if it's yours or the EEOC, about you have the responsibility. So, if you're going to use these tools, do you want to say something about that?
REBECCA BOND: No. I think that that's in state and local governments, it's the fact that products may be marketed as bias free and people may not know to ask all the right questions, about what that actually means and what kind of bias that will eliminate, and the fact is that it's almost quite difficult for some of these sort of off the shelf products to account for the wide range of different types of disabilities. Employers have their responsibility to make reasonable accommodations. Reasonable accommodations are something that are completely individualized. So, you know, I think any kind of off the shelf product, I'm not saying that they're bad. I'm sort of neutralist to the technology. But it's just that folks should be aware that they could be procuring a product that if they use without thinking could lead to discrimination and they're on the hook for it.
LAINEY FEINGOLD: We wanted to stop here. If anyone has a question about guidance in general, either the two we mentioned or the Department of Justice's role in issuing guidance, does anyone have a question about that before we move on? If we could pause here and hear another voice? I see one in the back.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Hi. I'm Jan McSorley and work in accessibility for Pearson. I don't know if this is more about the guidance or more about the technical assistance that you offer. I come from a K 12 background and I had a parent at that time who was trying to get access to accessible educational materials for her student and had filed a complaint with the office of civil rights. We went in and we met with them, and she was basically her complaint was denied, but when I went in and met with them myself, I was told well we can't really act on anything about accessible educational materials until there is a complaint. They had a complaint and they didn't act on it, and so my question is when you do technical assistance, how are you helping people in K 12? Because websites for school districts are not the whole picture and there are lots of kids who don't have access to equitable access to the educational materials, and are you partnering with OCR? I mean what does that technical assistance look like?
REBECCA BOND: So, I mean we certainly have a close relationship with OCR at the Department of Education and of course their focus is on education. They have actually done a lot of work on web access and have really sort of, you know, taken the lead at times on bringing cases involving web accessibility in the education space.
So, you know, I mean if we're putting out technical assistance, you know, we're certainly in conversations with them. But I think for the most part in that sort of K 12 space, the Department of Education is where folks turn, and that makes sense.
LAINEY FEINGOLD: Jan, were you talking about more than websites?
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Yes. I'm sorry. I was talking about the educational software as well. I mean I know that it's really difficult, I think, for a parent to navigate that, and for a government division to say that we have to have a complaint before we can act to enforce laws that are in existence, that pits the parents against the school district. When that's really not going to help anybody. And what the school districts are needing is really a, how do we you know, how do they understand what to ask vendors when they come in and try to sell a product to them. They don't even know like what accessibility is, and so they purchase educational software thinking that it's going to help everybody, and what's ending up happening is that the divide is getting greater and greater and greater because those kids don't have access and we're leaving it to the parents to take on an additional burden of take taking on the U.S. Government. That's what I'm looking at, how do we help school districts which really I mean I'm a former teacher and I've never worked harder in my life than when I was a teacher, so time issues are real for them. And understanding something this technical is complex.
LAINEY FEINGOLD: Okay. In this section we're going to take John and then Meca and then move on to the regulations and other types of enforcement. Two more questions in this part but there will be time later. Go.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Thank you. John P, National Federation of the Blind. I really appreciate your guidance on the algorithmic discrimination and maybe one to keep a particular watch for is jobs that require a driver's license when there is no driving, and it seems like people just put that as an incidental requirement, and then it screens out particularly blind people or other people who don't happen to have a driver's license, and even if you're going to get maybe there is an incidental amount of driving that maybe once a year you could take an Uber or Lyft but the person never gets to the stage because they never get the job and never even get to the reasonable accommodation discussion. Maybe your thoughts about how to improve in that area.
REBECCA BOND: So, actually, we had a case. We settled a case a couple of years back. Actually, I have to say I'm not remembering off the top of my head the jurisdiction that the case was in, but it involved an individual with dwarfism who was really kind of facing the situation that you described, not able to even successfully complete an application for a job because he didn't have a driver's license and he couldn't drive.
And what, you know, we ended up filing and settling that case and taking the position that the job required that he be at certain locations. How he got to those locations was really of no concern to the employer, so there was no need for him to have a driver's license as part of that job. So, we are interested in bringing those cases.
Now, if somebody has an individual complaint, the way that it works in the employment context is you would file that complaint with the EEOC. The EEOC then attempts conciliation and investigates it. If they have a charge of discrimination and it involves a state or local government, they refer it to the Department of Justice. And if it involves a business, they handle it themselves. So, I always strongly encourage folks to file complaints with us.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Good morning. This is Mica with the Envision Workforce Innovation Center. I wanted to bring up topics around transportation network companies or ride shares or whatever you want to call them. I know DOJ has done some work recently around wait times, but there is one issue that's kind of been undocumented to a large extent is sort of non visual access to location data with these ride share companies. And then a second issue that's kind of more well-known I think, has to do with service animals, and there has been recently a kind of grassroots campaign for people to sort of file informal DOJ complaints, and some people say it's effective and some people say we've kind of done that before. So, I'm just curious what your kind of visibility is on those two issues and kind of what your thoughts are.
REBECCA BOND: Yeah. I mean it's always helpful to us if folks file a complaint. It lets us know, as I sort of referred to before, just the tremendous number of ADA violation, right, and we don't have a limitless staff. So, we need to figure out where it makes the most sense to put our resources.
I think as you sort of alluded to just for others in the room, we recently settled a case with Uber over Uber's policy of charging folks for wait time fees if the wait time was over 2 minutes, even if the delay was caused by their disability.
And so we settled that case with Uber. They've given monetary relief to people that were injured and changed policies, and we certainly are interested in hearing about complaints in that space. I can't say, you know, we receive 34 to 36,000 complaints a year, so I certainly can't promise that we would get to any one particular complaint in any given year. We do process them all, but it's certainly helpful if there are trends for multiple people to file those complaints.
LAINEY FEINGOLD: I have to say it is kind of depressing having been in the space for so long that people are still requiring driver's license when it's not a driving job.
REBECCA BOND: Yeah.
LAINEY FEINGOLD: Like this is that's yeah. I don't know how you change the hearts and minds on that. Thank you for that.
REBECCA BOND: Enforcement helps.
LAINEY FEINGOLD: Yes, enforcement helps, and Rebecca will talk a little later about keeping up with the DOJ and their website, but I think we all need to help spread the word about the work that you do.
Okay. So, we want to turn our attention to the regulations. I'm watching the clock so we're about 4 minutes behind where we thought we would be. So, obviously regulations are a big topic, and we want to talk about what's coming down the pike both in terms of the proposed legislation as well as the Title II regs that Rebecca mentioned. Before we get to that, we just want to level set that somehow since 19 96, the DOJ has recognized that it's there and because we have current regs republic rec that's right.
LAINEY FEINGOLD: Those are the regs I relied in my work for the last 27 years, so can you speak about what we have?
REBECCA BOND: Sure. I think one of the key takeaways is that even absent enforceable and technical standards, state and local governments and about I says have responsibilities to comply with the ADA, including their presence on the web. So, courts around the country have recognized this. We have said this repeatedly, and so you know, it's something at that we've said in statements of interest in this context and in others. For example, we issued a statement or filed a statement of interest, rather, in June I think it was June of last year and this case didn't involve digital accessibility and involved bed heights. Folks had gone to a hotel and were unable to transfer to the bed and they filed a complaint saying that there was a violation of the ADA.
Well, the response of the hotel was to say, well look, no. It's not a violation of the ADA. There are no technical standards in this area, so we're we have no responsibility. But that's just not the case. And so we filed a statement of interest to make clear, again, that even absent technical standards in this area, and this was the bed height area and the same is true for web accessibility, you have responsibilities to comply with the law.
And in the digital accessibility area, those principally fall around the general requirements, the general nondiscrimination requirements that you have under Title II and III of the ADA and the communications provisions, the responsibility to provide auxiliary aids and services and to provide effective communication.
And so those are sort of the regulatory provisions that under GERD are working in that area and those have been unchanged for many years.
LAINEY FEINGOLD: If I had a nickel for every time I've said to someone, you can't effectively communicate content unless the content is accessible. We've had the effective communication regs since the very beginning.
REBECCA BOND: Right.
LAINEY FEINGOLD: So that is why we've been able, both the DOJ and all of us advocates, have been able to advance the issue in the legal space because the organizers behind the ADA and the drafters had such foresight to have a flexible language like, effectively communicate.
I know you mentioned a statement of interest. We're going to get to that in a minute, but just to be clear, a statement of interest as I understand it is when the government comes into a court, somebody else's case and says we're interested in this.
LAINEY FEINGOLD: That's right. That's right. So, you know, I think the word for lawyers out there that people are more familiar with is amicus briefs, friend of the court briefs, and for the Department of Justice, there is a law that allows us to file what is called a Statement of Interest in a case which basically allows us to come into a case where we are not a party, the Department of Justice is not a party to the case, and to file a brief that, you know, explains typically we use it to sort of explain our, you know, our regulatory provisions, to make sure that the law is clear and clean. And so that is an avenue that we have for, you know, making statements like the one that I just mentioned with respect to bed heights, web access, we filed statements of interest on a very wide range of topics.
LAINEY FEINGOLD: A lot of them in digital statements of interest on accessible kiosks and kind of this arcing thing, statement of interest, but it really puts out there that the Department of Justice and the ADA covers the kind of work that we're all working on.
So, that's what's there. Let's talk about what will be. So, you know, in all transparency which is a value that I believe in, my article about the proposed Title II regulations was called, Deja Vu All Over Again, with a question mark, which you can read. So, I'm holding two ideas. I'm holding the idea that, really, I thought we were getting this done in 2010. I'm also holding the idea of, great, this year the Department of Justice said that in April of 2023 they're going to issue regs on state and local governments. So, can you talk about where we're at with that reg and how you announced it?
REBECCA BOND: I think you just said it.
LAINEY FEINGOLD: Explain what a unified agenda is, explain that.
REBECCA BOND: A unified agenda, and if you want to see the unified agenda, you probably heard it mentioned and may not know exactly what it looks like, if you go to reginfo.gov you can find the unified agenda. Now finding it doesn't necessarily mean you'll be able to effectively navigate it, but you can find it at reginfo.gov and what it is really a statement of the administration's regulatory priorities, what they're working on. It goes through every agency. It's quite an expansive list. And there are two sets of agenda items. There are sort of the there is one that's a long term and then there is one that's sort of like the current regulatory items.
So, in the spring unified agenda, which actually came out on the very last day of spring, we announced our intent to promulgate regulations with respect to the websites of state and local governments and to provide technical standards that would be enforceable.
And that's pretty much all that I can say. I know folks want to ask. I've received questions of well, what about Title III? All I can tell you about the well actually sort of the administration's regulatory priorities in this space is what's in the unified agenda. I can't really say more than that.
LAINEY FEINGOLD: Okay then.
In my article titled Deja Vu All Over Again you know the story of the guy carrying the rock up to the top and doesn't get there and it rolls down and I used that as an image of painting that story but expressed my hope and confidence that it is in fact not that type of task to get these Title II regulations out and hopefully, we will see them.
So, and can you find the link to the unified agenda in the article that I wrote for those of you who want to like read the actual words. But, you know, the Federal Government about transparency, nobody I never heard about a unified agenda until I started working in this space. But there is a lot of good information. You can look up any agency you're interested in and find out, oh, what do they have planned for the next period. So, I recommend that.
So, then we have the idea of regulations in the Sarbanes Act which we heard about this morning.
REBECCA BOND: Yeah.
LAINEY FEINGOLD: What do you have to say about that?
REBECCA BOND: So, actually, for this part of the meeting, I know Lainey has been asking me questions, but I really can't say anything about that. So, I'm actually going to ask Lainey a question. So, can you discuss the announcement of the proposed legislation and give your thoughts about it? I know there was some discussion this morning, but I would be really curious to hear what you have to say.
LAINEY FEINGOLD: I tried to punt it back to her, but you know (Laughing). I trust Rebecca and if she says she can't answer something, I know she can't and it has nothing to do with her desires or commitment to our issues.
First of all, I just want to thank G3ict for having this morning session, which I hope you all caught with the video of John Sarbanes and the advocates who did all the hard work to get that bill up there. I really want to thank, and I wasn't involved in the bill at all, but just really thank the advocates who worked so hard, were able to collaboratively not just be on the stage ACB, NFB, NFB, NDRN as lead organizations but that big list of advocacy organizations to just show the strength of the community.
So, you know, it was very clear this morning, and I do in my legal updates, I do have an article about the law. One thing that's really good is laws are sometimes complicated to read, but for this law and hat's off to the whole team who wrote this, there are FAQs. There is a one pager. There is a summary, and they're in plain English and can you really understand what the law is doing what the proposal is doing before you dive into the actual words. So, in my article I have all of those links to that or you can search for it on the website. All the organizations have press releases, so there is a lot of good information out there to learn more.
What I want to say again, like I said hold two things. I want to say that I'm super excited about the possibility that we could have a law that recognizes the importance of digital accessibility in such a broadly framed language. I'm holding that. At the same time, it's a proposal, and as John said in the talk this morning that, you know, we want and need input and that will change the bill along the way. So, I'm excited, and I don't want anybody to wait. I think we all don't want anybody to wait. I've kind of been saying this since the first Obama proposed regulations in 2010, like we need the regulations and don't wait. Because the ADA is strong enough.
So, that I'm super excited and super grateful for everyone who worked on this law and don't wait. We have to kind of hold both of those parts. In anyone wants to disagree with me on the question part you can talk to me.
REBECCA BOND: I will just jump in to make a point. Lainey is exactly right about not waiting. I have been asked, well law or this proposed legislation is out there, so does that impact your work? And I just want to make clear that, you know, we at the Department of Justice, and especially in the Disability Rights Section are in charge with doing what I sort of described at the beginning of this session, which is implementing the ADA as it's written, and we will continue to do that. You know, if there is new law and it happens from time to time within the Civil Rights Division there are new laws that pass and sometimes, we get responsibility for those and sometimes we don't, and sometimes they go elsewhere. We are quite busy, I would say, you know, enforcing and implementing the law as it is written and will continue to do that, you know, unless and until there is some actual statutory change.
LAINEY FEINGOLD: I'm glad you mention that because the bill does have a provision obviously that's a big part of it to have regulations for covered ADA entities as well as commercial enterprises and other entities not covered by the ADA, and you're going to work on your Title II regulations as you've said. So, there is nothing in the proposal that impacts what was in the unified agenda about Title II regs.
REBECCA BOND: Yeah. It doesn't change our practice.
LAINEY FEINGOLD: Okay. Okay. So, we thought we would maybe take a couple of questions right here. If anyone has anything about the regulations. Then we want to go to enforcement and other work that the DOJ does around digital accessibility. Does anyone have any questions about regulations?
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Hi. My name is Jennifer with CGI Federal, I'm just curious if you could speak to with regards to these regulations and you've alluded to a couple of times, you all are very busy with 34,000 to 36,000 cases, and I appreciate
REBECCA BOND: Complaints, complaints that come in.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Right, which need to be processed. How do you anticipate, I guess, the agency dealing with that kind of from a digital transformation perspective if there is new legislation more complaints potentially would come in, can you speak to that at all?
REBECCA BOND: I mean I really can't speak to what the environment would be like if there were a new law that was passed. There are lots of just sort of generally with legislation, you know, Congress controls legislation, Congress controls the budget. You know, so I mean I think it's really, and again you know with laws that have the sort of have been passed in the space and in other contexts, you know, there is a question about who handles the law and what agency and what piece actually is sort of the one responsible and in charge with implementing it. So, I think, you know, there is really nothing that I can say, you know, on point about what would happen in the future with respect to this law.
LAINEY FEINGOLD: But we appreciate the question.
REBECCA BOND: One of the things that I will say though, just about our office is that you know, we have teams within our office, and we have a team that's sort of focused on regulations, interpretation, and coordination. One of our roles that I haven't talked about is our role of coordinating the interpretation of Section 504 and the ADA across the Federal Government and with our Federal partners. And so we have a unit that is devoted to sort of that type of work and it's not, you know, typically filing cases.
LAINEY FEINGOLD: Is there any other question on regulations? Paul in the back, and then I think we'll move on after that. Then we'll have time at the end for more general questions.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Thank you. Paul Schroeder, American Printing House for the Blind. You probably can't ask this but I'll try to ask it in a way that you can. State and local governments, I'm wondering are you beginning to hear or hearing already a lot of concerns being expressed or pushback? I think we have a number of state governments in this country that maybe aren't as particularly pro action on some of the issues that are going to come up in this web accessibility world, at least I anticipate you for sure can't answer that, but can you say whether you're getting some interest from state and local governments about what might be coming in terms of regulatory action?
REBECCA BOND: I mean covered entities are always interested in what may be coming down the pike. I mean I think for those of you who are familiar with just sort of the regulatory process, it's a notice and comment process, right. So, there is a formal process for folks to submit comments on any proposed regulation. When we talk about this spring publication date, it's for a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking. And then following that would be a comment period where covered entities and folks with disabilities, advocacy community can give us comments and feedback on the proposal. And so, we would anticipate that during that process, we would receive, you know, comments from all of those stakeholders and others.
LAINEY FEINGOLD: You know, if it makes us feel any better, and I don't know if it does, digital accessibility rules are not the only rules at that are faced with delay. And this morning in listening about the Access Board a notice of proposed rule meeting about accessible point of kiosk, that rings a bell, find it in legal updates, 2010, they had a MPRM, many people including people in the back and me in the advocacy community, we wrote big comments about kiosks and things that need to be accessible, and that was 2010. So, those of you who read my book, know I'm a believer in patience, but the system, the regulatory system we have for getting the rules we need, there is something that doesn't work with it. Because even a patient person like me, and I don't it's not the people in the DOJ, it's not the building, because it's like every agency. I have many more examples, and you can find it. So, you know, hopefully the community is more involved now and the commitment of the Justice Department is there and we'll see something different.
Yeah. We'll get that rock over the top of the hill. Okay. Let's switch to the other kinds of enforcement activities that you do. We talked a little bit about statements of interest, but you also do litigation and complaints and there has been a lot of work around the years around digital accessibility so can you give a few examples of that so people know?
REBECCA BOND: Sure. I'll focus on some recent examples. You know, I think as I mentioned, you know, we have there are so many issues to consider, and we one of the things that we want to do is deal with some of the most pressing issues that folks are facing, some of the most important barriers to access, and I think for many of us over the past couple of years, you know, one of the most pressing things was getting our COVID vaccines. I know that actually I personally drove 600 miles to get my first shot, so I know that people are very, very, very keen to get vaccines.
And so, we initiated a compliance reviews of pharmacies looking for whether or not folks with, you know, with vision and manual disability would be able to schedule their own appointments. And what we found was not, you know, personally I would say and I know that there are, you know in our agreements people will sort of deny liability, let's say, but what we found was that there were some real accessible barriers. And so, we entered into settlement agreements with five of the nation's leading pharmacies based on what we found on their vaccine websites. So, our hope is that this will prompt them, not only in this space, but in others and not only these pharmacies but others, to make sure that they make sort of access to what could be life saving vaccines accessible.
LAINEY FEINGOLD: Glad you mention that because one other thing I wanted to say about the proposed legislation that Stephanie talked about this morning is the definition of accessibility bakes in the privacy idea, the word privacy is right in the definition of accessibility in the proposed legislation, and when I saw that work that the department did around the COVID sites, that spoke privacy. That's about health. That's about life and death. The no privacy without accessibility is a theme that I think is reflected in the work that you've done.
REBECCA BOND: No, that's absolutely right. For those of us who have signed up online for those appointments, there is a lot of sort of medical information that you have to provide, so everyone should be able to do that privately and independently.
So, you know, I know your question was sort of about enforcement and I talked about the Title III, the sort of public accommodation space with respect to our pharmacy settlement. We also have entered into settlement agreements with state and local government entities, so last December we entered into a settlement agreement with champagne Urbana Mass Transit District which had a website that you could use to sort of find bus schedules and all sorts of things but it was just not accessible. And so we had a complaint that was filed based on that, and we entered into a settlement agreement with them to make their website accessible.
LAINEY FEINGOLD: That's another one of those how do we change hearts and minds. I think one of the very first public sector accessibility cases was against a Marta District, where was that? Where was that? That was like in 2003, I think, where the Justice Department again said that the bus schedules have to be accessible. So, here we are.
Okay, so we have about 10 minutes left. We want to take a few more questions and then I want to give it back to Rebecca to kind of wrap up and also to talk more about the information that they provide on the DOJ website and how to file a complaint. So, do we have any questions? Yes, in the back.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Hi, Kevin Andrews from Georgetown University. Not used to sounding on a microphone, wow. (Laughing). I'm the singular subject matter expert here, and I'm just curious if any of you all could speak to trends or things you notice, obviously can't probably speak to specific, but any sort of trends that you can speak to around what's happening in the higher education space. There were a lot of OCR complaints that were filed. We were the recipient of one of them among many, so many schools between 2016 and 18 so just curious if you could talk about that, kind of what you're seeing, what we should be on the lookout for. I'm trying to keep it general because legal. Thanks.
REBECCA BOND: So, I would say just given the way the setup between the Department of Justice and the Department of Education, they're the entity that would receive the majority of ADA and 504 complaints. We don't have, when I talk about sort of all the complaints that we receive, we wouldn't have as good access to that data as the Department of Education has.
I mean that being said, as I mentioned, I think you know, they have been very focused on this issue and have dealt with an extreme number of digital accessibility complaints, and I know that it's a focus for that agency.
LAINEY FEINGOLD: For higher ed, there is a great resource from Laura Carlson that University of Minnesota keeps on higher actions around higher ed, and it's really good and I think we all know that in the space of digital accessibility there is ethical legal work being done and work that I consider not ethical. In the higher ed space there is a lot of great ethical advocacy, and I know Hills in the room and NFB who have done really significant agreements with universities that you can look at as a roadmap. I look at them as a roadmap, the National Association of the Deaf has done great work on captions in this space, so there is a lot of really good work in the legal space around and of course so many organizations, higher ed orgs not waiting for the legal action, and that really, I think would be the common advice.
REBECCA BOND: Yeah. Don't wait. Don't wait. I will say on a personal note. My son has very significant dyslexia and just started at college, and the college that he's going to was sued five years ago, and you know we met with them before he went there to sort of find out what they were doing and what they offered. And it almost sounded like they were reading through the requirements of a settlement agreement. (Laughing). So, it just goes to show that it does make a difference.
LAINEY FEINGOLD: Absolutely. Woman in the striped vest. Or the mic.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: My name is Archibald and lawyer and do work the same as Ms. Feingold. I'm a lawyer and seen the work of Civil Rights Division in the south. My concern is that the Civil Rights Division is primarily in DC, and each state has one or more U.S. attorney offices and approximately 100 U.S. Attorney offers around the U.S. and I've never talked to one of them and talked to several dozen that really has close connection, a liaison at the individual U.S. attorney office. So, what I would like to know is, one, has the Civil Rights Division attempted to set up liaisons so that there is one assistant U.S. attorney in each of the 100 districts throughout the state? And if it hasn't been done, I think there would be a lot of people in this group who would like to have in each Federal District a designated person, an assistant U.S. attorney who could help them coordinate Civil Rights Division matters. Thank you.
REBECCA BOND: I'm so glad that you asked that question because finally, hopefully I can give a satisfying answer. (Laughing).
Which is we have an extremely active program in the ADA where we work very closely with 85 U.S. attorney's offices across the nation. We have three designated coordinators in our office that work with folks in those offices and a director of our enforcement program. Remember how I mentioned before that we received 34,000 to 36,000 complaints? Many of the complaints that we receive are handled by U.S. attorney's offices, and as you suggested it's sort of almost as though you read our minds and we do have designated people in each of those 85 U.S. attorney's offices that we work with very closely.
And so we have lots of models for working with them. There are many ADA cases that they handle, pretty much on their own under the sort of stewardship of there are, and I see you shaking your head, but I can tell you and assure you that, (Laughing), the data is there that the U.S. attorney's offices are handling, you know, a wide variety of ADA matters.
You know, they also work with, you know, there are other folks who work with other parts of the Civil Rights Division as well. But we have a very active partnership with them, and we refer a number of complaints to them, we litigate cases with them, and so we have a very close working relationship with U.S. attorney's offices.
Now, I did say that it was 85. It's not every single U.S. attorney's office that's out there, so there is a possibility that you just happen to be interacting with those very rare districts that we don't have a liaison, but that's really the responsibility of the U.S. attorney's office to appoint one. But we, in fact, we do a regular webinar series where we give training for the U.S. attorney's offices, so we're very involved with the U.S. attorney's offices and really, they're a great mechanism for amplifying our work.
LAINEY FEINGOLD: I think we probably have time for two questions, so here is one. Then Clark, you're the last one.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Hi. My name is Megan Roburn, Project Manager of Accessibility at Sands Institute and my question while it might fall under the category of, I can't answer that is related to timelines for regulations. I know one thing that motivates a lot of people that I work with is the government said so. While I have a lot of pull and power to motivate people to be incorporating accessibility into some of the things that we're building out, building able to turn to not only guidelines and regulations but timelines provided by some of the people who are putting that out can be really helpful in terms of motivating teams to get working on this instead of pushing it out to the next sprint or the next time that we're going to be pushing out a release.
So, if you're able to speak at all to timelines or, you know, recommendations on that?
REBECCA BOND: So, I mean I think with respect to timelines for regulations, I can't say anything more than what's in our unified agenda. I would say that I think folks are also, you know, motivated. Of course, you want people to do things because it's the right thing to do and we try to provide technical assistance and resources to help people voluntarily comply with the law. But if they haven't, I mean certainly enforcement actions are certainly something that motivates teams as well. You know, I've talked with plenty of folks who work in organizes who really believe in accessibility and want to push their organizations in that direction, but sometimes feel they don't have the power or sway to convince their organization to comply with the law.
And so, you know, one of the avenues I know some folks have used before is going to our website at ADA.gov where we have our enforcement actions and list of enforcement actions and say, hey look, the Department of Justice brought this enforcement action. We don't want to be next. Let's voluntary comply. That's one thing I would offer.
LAINEY FEINGOLD: Okay. We have 1 minute and 27 second left thanks to this nice clock, so I know Clark has a question but do you want something quick about the beta version of the website because I know you're looking for feedback on that.
REBECCA BOND: Yes. In June 2021, we launched a beta version of what we consider to be a very popular website, ADA.gov, and again it's focused it's really user focused, the new website. We're really trying to make it sort of easier for folks to understand their rights and responsibilities. We'd love feedback on this site, and so there is more to come on that, but I definitely want to give Clark a chance to ask his question.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Thank you so much. Thank you for this session, Clark Rachfal with the American Council of the Blind. Every few years we see proposals included in the ADA Notification Act, ADA Education and Reform Act or Online Accessibility Act that would require people with disabilities to provide notice and an opportunity to cure when they encounter accessibility. Can you provide your thoughts, either or both of you, on what impact this would have on individuals with disabilities and what this would potentially mean for businesses that wait for something like this? Thank you.
REBECCA BOND: Do you want to take that.
LAINEY FEINGOLD: Do you have anything to say?
REBECCA BOND: Sure. I'll quickly say that we're now 30 years into the ADA. I think it's pretty clear that it applies and what applies. So I, you know, I don't think it's ambiguous that the law applies. I'll turn it over to Lainey because I really can't say too much more.
LAINEY FEINGOLD: Wow. We're 25 seconds past time. I really can't say much. All I can say is this, if it turns out that down the road that part of negotiations involves conversations about notice, the problem with these other laws has always been that the notice requirements were so onerous on the disabled person. It can't be that you have to send a certified letter, it can't be that you have to have a lawyer help you, it can't be a burdensome thing and those of you who know me know I spent my entire career on collaboration. There is nothing more important than a right to file a law suit to enforce civil rights, so that's I think where we need to leave it.
Thank you, Rebecca. It was really nice to have you.
REBECCA BOND: Thank you! Thank you!
FRANCESCA CESA BIANCHI: Thank you so much for the insights. It was a pleasure to have you here. Thank you.
Now, we have lunch so lunch will be served outside, and then please join us back in the Ballroom at 1:30 p.m. for the next panel discussion of New Opportunities for Assistive Technologies in an Interconnected Environment. Thank you.
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