On September 29, 2022, U.S. House Representative John Sarbanes (D-MD-03) and Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) introduced legislation to help break down the significant barriers that Americans with disabilities continue to face when accessing website and software applications, which all Americans rely on for employment, commerce, education, public services and all other aspects of society. The “Websites and Software Applications Accessibility Act” would build on the promise of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) — passed over 32 years ago — by requiring that entities currently covered by the ADA, as well as commercial providers, maintain websites and software applications that are accessible for Americans with disabilities. This legislation would also establish a clear accessibility standard as well as establish a technical assistance center and advisory committee to provide advice and guidance on how to develop and maintain accessible websites and applications. Additionally, this legislation would authorize a study on the effects that emerging technologies have on the ability of individuals with disabilities to participate in society.

Introduction by John G. Paré Jr., Executive Director for Advocacy and Policy, National Federation of the Blind

  • Remarks via video by U.S. Representative John Sarbanes (D-MD-03)
  • Perspectives from advocacy organizations involved with the drafting of the Act with:

    • John G. Paré Jr., Executive Director for Advocacy and Policy, National Federation of the Blind
    • Stephanie Enyart, Chief Public Policy and Research Officer, American Foundation for the Blind
    • Clark Rachfal, Director of Advocacy and Governmental Affairs, American Council of the Blind




OCTOBER 25, 2022
9:00 AM ET


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This text, document, or file is based on live transcription. Communication Access Realtime Translation (CART), captioning, and/or live transcription are provided in order to facilitate communication accessibility and may not be a totally verbatim record of the proceedings. This text, document, or file is not to be distributed or used in any way that may violate copyright law.

Ladies and gentlemen, kindly take your seats. Our program will begin momentarily. Ladies and gentlemen, kindly take your seats. Our program will begin momentarily. At this time, please silence all cellular devices as a courtesy to others. Thank you.

Ladies and gentlemen at this time, please welcome to the stage, the Program Officer for G3ict, Nico.

NICHOLAS GENNARO SCIASCI: Good morning, everyone. Everyone is silent this morning. Good morning! Everyone have coffee? Ready to go? Did everyone enjoy the 10th Anniversary Celebration last evening? Amazing! Does everyone still have the party favors? No? (Laughing).
Thank you, again, for joining us on Day 2 of the M Enabling Summit. We hope you enjoyed yesterday's lunch and sessions and breakout rooms and sessions that we've had going on in addition to the Innovation Sprint workshops. Just a little reminder that this afternoon we will host the pitch presentations in Studio E, so if anybody is interested in joining us in supporting the teams that have been working as early as 7:30 this morning in the Board Room to pull this together, we would greatly appreciate it.
Just a couple of notes regarding today's session. We will have here in the Ballroom until 9:30 with a short transition to parallel session format, Meet the Leader fireside chat with Sarah Herrlinger, Global Accessibility at Apple and moderated by Robin Spinks in Studio B which is to the right of the registration area.
While the session on Next Steps for Digital Accessibility Policies and Standards, Moderated, by Tim Springer CEO of Level Access will take place here in the Grand Ballroom.
Another reminder that all attendees in the room can utilize the passport for wonderful prizes we'll be raffling off this evening. First place prize is a registration to the M Enabling Summit for 2023, so next year here in Washington DC in October. The second prize is a certification program through the IAAP. And third and fourth prizes are individual memberships to IAAP.
And Leslie oh, I'm sorry. One important note as well is in the showcase area later today, we will have a bowl for everyone to drop their passports in so we can go I ahead and collect everything for the raffle this evening at the Meet up and Networking Session.
At this time, I would like to call our President and CEO Axel Leblois to introduce the panel on the Sarbanes Act. Thank you all.

AXEL LEBLOIS: Good morning, everyone. On September 29, 2022, which is a few weeks ago, U.S. House Representative John Sarbanes and Senator Tammy Duckworth introduced legislation that if passed will have a profound impact on our digital accessibility ecosystem. So, this session is extremely timely, and I'm super grateful to our panelists today to be here to talk about it. The Websites and Software Application Accessibility Act would require that entities currently covered by the ADA as well as commercial providers maintain website and software application accessible for Americans with disabilities, based upon clearly defined standards.
The Act also put the responsibility of complying with the positions, on both organizations using technologies and organizations providing those technologies. That's a very fundamental shift versus the current situation.
To discuss the new initiative this morning, I'm very pleased to welcome to the stage John Pare, Executive Director for advocacy and Policy National Federation of the Blind. Stephanie Enyart, Chief Public Policy and Research Officer at the American Foundation for the Blind, and Clark Rachfal, Director of Advocacy and Governmental Affairs for American Council of the Blind. I want to thank be John for helping us develop the panel and John will share how the draft legislation came to be introduced, and introduce Congressman John Sarbanes presentation. And following John Sarbanes video address, John, Stephanie, and Clark will share perspectives on the act and impact from an advocacy perspective. Please join me in welcoming panelists, John, Stephanie, and Clark.

JOHN G. PARE JR.: Good morning. Websites and software applications are the gateways to most companies, organizations, and government. Whether reviewing your online medical records, planning a trip to visit your parents, checking your child's school records, or completing your timesheet at work, websites are the preferred and sometimes the only way to accomplish these tasks.
For the more than 1 billion people, people with disabilities around the world, this door is not always open. Sometimes the door is half open, allowing some review, planning, or checking. But who wants to know their cholesterol level but not their blood pressure? Or know that their child is doing well in English but have no idea about their proficiency in math.
In other cases, the door is completely shut, or requires a massive and time consuming effort. All of the entities, all of this is far from welcoming or inclusive. We know that all of the entities in this room want to keep the door wide open. As Brad Smith of Microsoft once wrote, we believe that accessible technology is a fundamental building block that can unlock opportunities for people with disabilities and throughout society.
Over the past two years, members of the disability community have been working on a Bill referred to the Websites and Software Application Accessibility Act. It is a product of the general disability community, including help from American Association of People with Disabilities, Disability Education and Rights Fund, National Association of the Deaf, National Council on Independent Living, National Disability Institute, National Disability Rights Network, Paralyzed Veterans of America, ARC, Vietnam Veterans of America, and the folks on stage, National Federation of the Blind, American Council of the Blind, and American Foundation for the Blind.
September 28, 2022, Senator Duckworth, a combat veteran and person with disability herself and Congressman Sarbanes introduced the Websites and Software Application Accessibility Act. Here is what Tony Coelho, the father of the ADA, this bill is as significant as the introduction of the Americans with Disabilities Act and represents support and cooperation from the disability community. Now, that's a strong endorsement, the Father of the ADA said this is as significant as the introduction of the ADA.
Let's hear what Congressman Sarbanes has to say about the sponsorship of this Bill. We'll hear from him and play his video.

JOHN SARBANES: Hi, everyone. I'm Congressman Sarbanes. I'm proud to have introduced the Websites and Software Application Accessibility Act with my colleague Senator Tammy Duckworth. This important legislation will make websites and mobile applications accessible for everyone. Today the Internet, as we know, is the center of nearly every aspect of our society, but digital innovation is only as powerful as it is inclusive. As technology has evolved, digital accessibility hasn't kept pace and far too many Americans cannot take full and equal advantage of new tools. That's why we need uniform consistent standards that lay out what true digital accessibility is.

JOHN G. PARE JR.: Next, we're going to hear a little bit more about a few details about the Bill. Stephanie Enyart, Chief Public Policy and Research Officer at American Foundation for the Blind.

STEPHANIE ENYART: Thank you, John. I'll start with the definition of disability. A perceivable, operable, understandable, robust website or application that enables people with disabilities to access the same information as, to engage in the same interactions as, to communicate and to be understood as effectively as, to enjoy the same services as other individuals with the same privacy, the same independence, and the same ease of use as individuals without disabilities.
We know that websites and applications that are inaccessible create frustration for people with disabilities. Wasted time and money, and often exclusion from programs, services, and activities.
Also, there is a lack of independence and many people have to give up privacy in order to have access. This is especially insidious in sensitive transactions like banking or shopping for pregnancy test. When the advocacy community began to draft aspects of this piece of legislation, we focused on a functional definition, one that prioritizes equitable access over compliance with a specific standard. We didn't just say we want WCAG.
We want to ensure access is not a tradeoff for privacy or independence, and something else that is extremely important is we don't want one particular failure for a website to cause it to be considered inaccessible from a legal perspective.
Our goal is access, and we want a local environment that focuses on access first and compliance with specific standards as a means of achieving this kind of access. We know that the business community is really truly looking for clarity on how they can comply with their legal obligations, and this Bill will set a robust schedule for scheduling regulations within two years of enactment.
Right now, Federal agencies have a bit of a longer timeframe for updating regulations, so in this bill, Federal agencies will be charged with analyzing, reporting unenforcement, assessing whether or not the regulations in place are meeting the objectives, and then updating regulations accordingly.
Regulations should be reviewed and updated every three years. We know that companies who are already following industry best practices will have no trouble keeping pace with the changes in regulations. We also know that companies, and especially small businesses, will have concerns and questions in how they can meet their obligations. That's why this bill also has technical assistance for every covered entity to help resolve knowledge barriers and get them on the right track.
And, lastly, in terms of emerging technology, which we focused on so much yesterday, it asks the National Council on Disability to produce a report on the effects of emerging technology on the lives of people with disabilities.
With that, I will turn it over to Clark Rachfal the Director of Advocacy and Governmental Affairs at the American Council of the Blind.

CLARK RACHFAL: Thank you, Stephanie. Representative Sarbanes touched on it and the quote that John Pare read about Tony Coelho. What about the ADA? What about the Americans with Disabilities Act? We certainly believe that the ADA applies to websites; and frankly, the Department of Justice agrees that. The Department of Justice has been consistent for 26 years that the ADA applies to websites. But as the Congressman stated, we don't have those clear and enforceable, uniform national framework for online accessibility.
I am happy it say that the Department of Justice has added to their calendar an ADA Title II rulemaking for I believe April of 2023. We have been down this road before, right. We've had previous administrations and previous departments of justice begin work on ADA website regulations, but not get it done in time, and then with an administration change, priorities change.
I can tell you that for the disability community, the priority has not changed when it comes to websites, applications, and online services. This is why in early 2022, the three organizations here along with the National Disability Rights Network led a letter of more than 180 disability and civil rights organizations, urging the Administration to move forward with Title II and Title III rulemaking and complete them within the current Administration.
As the DOJ is moving forward on Title II, there are many other agencies, such as education, Health and Human Services, Transportation and others at that are working on refreshing Section 504 regulations and modernizing them to include the virtual built environment as well.
But without overarching Title III regulations from Justice as well, this leaves the potential of having a patchwork of regulations, and more confusions not only for people with disabilities but for companies and businesses and government agencies on what's covered and what is not.
I'm excited to say that not only has the disability community sent that letter but many other letters including from the Consortium on Constituents with Disabilities has raised this issue as well, and Congress is taking note. In addition to this bill which has been introduced in both the House and Senate, Senators Duckworth, Senator Schatz and Sarbanes have each led sign on letters urging the Department of Justice to move forward on website accessibility regulations.
As we move forward here as we move forward even just later today, I'm excited that the Department of Justice is present at this conference and that we will have an opportunity to hear from them, and hopefully hear them share as much as they're able to share on their process as they move forward.
So, the ADA does have a role, and this bill is not meant to amend or replace the Americans with Disabilities Act; rather, it's meant to build on it. It's meant to enhance it, much like the ADA did with the Rehab Act, the Communications and Video Accessibility Act did with the ADA, and any number of voting rights legislation from the Help America Vote Act, the ADA, the Voting Rights Act have fortified the rights of people with disabilities.
So, in this legislation as Stephanie stated, this bill will provide a date certain for regulations to be completed, something that we are lacking today and that people with disabilities so desperately need. This bill would remove any doubt that accessibility is required not only for websites, but websites, applications, and online services. As Stephanie read in the definition, people with disabilities have equal access to all of the goods and services in the virtual built environment with the same privacy, same independence, and same ease of use.
Far too often today, our organizations, as I'm sure many of you here in the room, hear from consumers that have interactions with businesses that are trying to do the right thing and want to do the right thing and believe that they have done the right thing, but an education provider has procured an inaccessible e learning platform from a third party vendor, or an employer finds out after the fact that their HR and payroll system doesn't meet the needs of their employees with disabilities, or I can't change my fantasy football roster without my wife's help. (Laughing).
This bill would help to curve that by not only having requirements on the covered entities, but ensuring that covered entities have recourse against those commercial providers, those who are developing, designing, and selling these platforms and systems to the covered entities. This should provide greater certainty of accessible products and services for people with disabilities, but it also should protect businesses and covered entities that they know that they're getting what they've signed up for, and that it will meet the needs of their constituents, their employees, and their consumers.
So, we're very excited because the disability community is speaking with one voice, as John mentioned, all of the organizations supporting this legislation are not only the three blindness organizations seated on this day of today, but organizations representing the Deaf and Hard of Hearing community, those with speech and communications disabilities, people with mobility and dexterity impairments as well as cognitive and developmental disabilities.
In addition, Congress is speaking up and using their voice to ensure that as all priorities are important that this priority remains just as important as everything else. And we're here because we want you all to join us in this effort as well. John?

JOHN G. PARE JR.: Thank you, Clark. Thank you, Stephanie.
We were thrilled to get the invitation to speak to all of you because you're exactly who we wanted to talk to. We want to talk and speak with and engage and meet with and discuss this bill with the business community, and especially the ones that are in this room, the people who come to this conference are exactly the people we want to engage with. So, we invite you to meet with us, to talk. We'll be reaching out to you. You don't have to wait for us. You can reach out to us, but we will be reaching out to you. We want to hear your opinions. What would you like to see in the bill that maybe could gain more of your support. We think of this as a starting point and not a finishing point. This is where we're starting. We think it's a good starting point.
We're at the tail end of the 117th Congress and it would be great to meet with you over the next couple of months so that as we get to the beginning of the 118th Congress, a new bill could be introduced that reflects the changes that you support.
So we, maybe in closing, we are thrilled and eager to work with you to get to a place where we have a bill that all of us can be proud of, and by doing that, I think we can get it to move through the United States Congress to the President's desk and get to our ultimate goal of really having accessible websites for everyone. Thanks on behalf of us. Thanks from everyone in the disability community. Thank you.

NICHOLAS GENNARO SCIASCI: Thank you to the panelists of John, Stephanie and Clark. A wonderful session. A few minutes and we'll get started with the next panel discussion. Also, at this time is in Studio B another fireside chat with Robin Spinks and Sarah Herrlinger. Thank you.

This text, document, or file is based on live transcription. Communication Access Realtime Translation (CART), captioning, and/or live transcription are provided in order to facilitate communication accessibility and may not be a totally verbatim record of the proceedings. This text, document, or file is not to be distributed or used in any way that may violate copyright law.

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