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In last week’s webinar, Level Access CEO Tim Springer outlined key digital accessibility trends and developments, and discussed the current state and projections for the market, related regulations, and new technology.

This post contains Tim’s responses to audience questions posed during and after the presentation.

Missed the webinar? No problem! You can access the webinar recording, slides, and CART transcript at 2017 Digital Accessibility Trends.

Webinar Q & A

The Market

Q: Do we know which versions of the screen readers were used in the survey statistics provided in the webinar?

//TS: There is some information on the various types and versions of the screen readers which you can get that as part of the screen reader user survey from WebAIM.

Q: Are the statistics provided in the webinar from a global user set?

//TS: Most of the data in the presentation is global; however, the data in the screen reader user survey is likely skewed towards the U.S. domestic market.

Q: Do you have the U.S. domestic data specifically?

//TS: No, we don’t have any more specific slices of the data than that which is provided.

Q: Does your report include commercial/enterprise computing or is it only consumer-focused?

//TS: It includes both but is likely skewed more towards the consumer side of the equation. In work environments in the U.S. we still see costed Assistive Technologies as the dominant means of access.

Q: Which is more common – a MAC user with Assistive Technology built in vs. a PC user with a purchased screen reader such as JAWS?

//TS: You can see the relevant market share metrics in the screen reader user survey from WebAIM.  Broadly it appears that 85% of the respondents used Windows systems while only a little under 7% used “Apple” – which we assume means OSX – operating systems.  Those numbers broadly pass muster with the overall numbers in the market.

Laws and Regulations

Q: The U.S. Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board (federal) has adopted a final rule requiring websites and electronic content of federal agencies to conform to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 Levels A and AA within one year following the rule’s publication in the Federal Register… how soon will the DOJ follow?

//TS: Our current guess: not for some time. As noted in the presentation, the DoJ rulemaking under the ADA is split into two pieces:

ADA Title II – RIN 1190-AA65

  • SANPRM completed in October 2016
  • Target standards: WCAG 2.0 AA
  • Compliance Timeline: Two Years
  • July 2017 NPRM date

While DoJ is projecting the issuance of an NPRM by July 2017, we view this as unlikely with the Trump Administration and expect this date will be pushed back.

ADA Title III – RIN 1190-AA61

  • Moved to a long term action, no actions expected before fiscal 2018

We expect this rulemaking will be removed entirely from the docket with the Trump Administration.

Given those factors we expect regulations in effect only in the distant future:

  • Title II (5+ years)
  • Title III (10+ years)

We expect legal risk management (versus regulatory conformance) will drive accessibility for foreseeable future.

Q: When you say ‘unlikely to be affected’, are you referring to the Section 508 Refresh impact on current 508 compliance standards and updating sites to be compliant, or something else?

//TS: The Refresh as it applies to new and updated sites.

Q: Regarding the ADA, are you saying that ADA requirements do not apply to Federal Government?

//TS: Oversimplifying, the ADA does not directly apply to the U.S. Federal Government.  The Rehabilitation Act does.

Q: What does ADA enforcement look like in Higher Education and Not-for-Profit?

//TS: ADA enforcement is likely to be more aggressive in Higher Education and Not-for-Profit spaces in comparison to the U.S. Federal sector.  This is principally a function of the different laws and how they apply to the different sectors.

Q: For companies that have worked on compliance to the Section 508 requirements, where should the next focus be: ADA, WCAG 2.0, or 508 Refresh?

//TS: Essentially “yes” to all, as the Section 508 Refresh generally requires WCAG 2.0 Level A and AA conformance which is what most organizations target for compliance under the ADA.

Q: What is the status of HB6122 – pending legislation for Accessible Instructional Materials for Higher Education?

//TS: HB6122 is currently in committee. Oversimplifying, it proposes to create voluntary standards for electronic instructional materials and related technologies.  It would provide safe harbor under the ADA and Section 504 for materials that conformed to this standard. Broadly we would tell you that, should this bill be passed and signed into law, that is likely a good thing for the market.  It would provide a degree of surety around what is required for compliance.

Q: For the EU sector, what about apps developed prior to 9/18/18?

//TS: Our read is that they are not covered unless they are “updated” after that date. Ultimately, though, these are issues that will be taken up with the member state specific laws and regulations implementing the EC-wide law.

We have a free webinar coming up in February covering EU Directive 2016/2102/EU which went in to force in December 2016. The Directive requires websites and mobile apps of public sector bodies to be accessible. You can read more about the webinar and access the resources at The EU Directive on Digital Accessibility.

Q: Do the WCAG 2.0 requirements include accessibility standards for mobile?

//TS: The core web accessibility tenets of WCAG 2.0 can be applied to both desktop and mobile websites. While in some cases the interpretation of WCAG to a mobile site can be complicated, broadly the application is straightforward.

The application of WCAG 2.0 to native mobile applications can be accomplished via the WCAG2ICT specification.

Q: Do you have a sense of whether the Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT) will be updated to reflect 508 Refresh? 

//TS: We expect this would happen after the updates to the FAR (7/14/2017) but before the enforcement date for the new rules (1/14/2018).

Q: I would love to hear of case studies of organizations who have gotten on top of the problems of producing accessible PDF publications.

//TS: Check out our Trends in Digital Accessibility and Electronic Documents webinar for some more detail on that.  Some of the early content is similar to this webinar but the latter half content digs into the specifics around how organizations tackle accessible electronic documents.

Q: What can you tell us about Canadian legislation?

//TS: There are a variety of digital accessibility laws in Canada. The most interesting ones are the Canadian Human Rights Act at the federal level and the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act at the provincial level.

Q: What about the documentation standard?  What will it be: PDF, Word or HTML??

//TS: Generally, speaking the accessibility standards are broadly mum on the exact technical format of accessible documentation. In practice that means you can use PDF, Word or HTML.  Our view is that the different formats each have strengths and weaknesses in certain publication contexts. So you’ll do best to choose the right documentation standard for your publication environment and then work to make it accessible versus the other way around.

Q: What are the expectations for the new FCC rules requiring more audio-described content from networks and more accessible devices from cable/satellite providers?

//TS: Likely the total expansion of audio-described (AD) content will be fairly minimal and we don’t expect it to have a material impact on the ecosystem of AD content.  We do expect that the broader trend to more accessible device support will continue.  That would include better and more elegantly baked-in accessible description support on devices.

Q: Is a touchscreen-only interface accessible if it does not have any tactilely discernable controls, according to the new Section 508 standards?

//TS: Short answer – it’s complicated. Some touchscreen only interfaces can be made accessible and there are ways to transfer controls through to multiple modalities. iOS is a good example of doing this well. That noted, those examples are limited and in our experience constrained to large, well-funded operating system developers. So it’s not impossible, but it is difficult.

Q: How do you suggest handling vendors’ products that don’t meet VPAT standards, but are offering an ‘equally-effective alternative’?  Who handles that review, should the alternative access be actually tested, and if products are adopted which don’t meet all accessibility requirements who bears the responsibility for follow up and creating alternative access?

//TS: I would handle those claims with “extreme skepticism.” In general, our experience is that vendors that claim to have alternative interfaces do not have alternatives that meet the relevant technical standards. In terms of testing the products there are two basic options:

  • Your organization directly tests the product to validate it provides equivalent access.  The best way to do this is have individuals with various types of disabilities try to execute the core tasks of the system.  If the users can accomplish the core tasks the system will generally be accessible.
  • Require the organization to present a third-party certification of equivalence or third party report on the same.  This requires the vendor to have a qualified third party test the application and attest to the equivalence of the interface.

The primary responsibility for following up and ensuring access for products that are purchased that do not provide access is the procurement group.  Ultimately if something is purchased that (i) warrants a level of access but (ii) fails to provide it that is an issue of contract conformance.

Q: Can you clarify the dates by which we need to be “accessible” in the US and globally?

//TS: This is dependent on the specific laws and markets that you are accessing.   Most of those dates, however, are carved out internally in the webinar presentation and slide deck with can be accessed at 2017 Digital Accessibility Trends.

Q: Regarding the Section 508 Refresh, you said something like, “You don’t have to make everything that you currently have in place compliant with new standards” and that “All of the legacy stuff is then sort of safe harbored there.”  We are currently working on existing sites to make them accessible.  Are we doing work unnecessarily? E.g. should we be creating closed captions for all our many videos?

//TS: All existing sites are covered under the current Section 508 standards. You simply don’t have to update those websites to conform to the new Section 508 Refresh standards. So it’s not that they aren’t covered, they just aren’t covered by the new technical standards.

In practice, the actual interpreted difference between the current 508 standards and the Refresh isn’t huge. There are some core portions of WCAG 2.0 Level AA that are not present in the current standards and those would not need to be implemented on current sites. That noted, most of WCAG 20 Level A roughly maps to the current 508 standards and would need to be implemented under either standard.

Technology

Q: Regarding the impact of emergent technologies on the sight loss aspect of accessible design, we are now seeing unprecedented progress on medical solutions for sight loss. This is happening on two fronts – advances in bionics and advances in stem cell science. While the currently available products/procedures are young in their development, innovators in these fields believe loss of sight is a present-day issue and will be eliminated within the coming decades. Within the accessibility industry, Is there currently any discussion of these types of assertions and their potential implications for organizations like Level Access or the standards themselves?

//TS: We view the likelihood of effective, systemic impacts on sight loss or broader visual impairments as in the distant future and unlikely to have any material impact in the short term. In the long term, while some treatments for visual impairments may become widely available we view it as unlikely to truly change the accessibility industry. The reason for that is the visually impaired community tends to be a slice of the overall community of people with disabilities. That broader group is where we see the substantive impacts for accessibility.  So, in short, it’s not just about people with visual impairments.

Q: What about access for individuals for whom touch or voice is not an option?  What are the trends for alternate access via switch and or/eye gaze?

//TS: Oversimplifying: all positive. We see switch support on a variety of platforms including mobile. Eye tracking and eye gaze support continues to improve in accuracy and robustness. At the biggest picture perspective our view is that multi-modal interfaces continue to grow and evolve. So the idea is you have ever increasing options for interacting with computers and those options continue to grow and evolve going forward.

Q: What would be the view of the consumer electronics legislation for example on a smart refrigerator that is inaccessible standalone, but at a practical level totally accessible via a phone app?

//TS: As that is a question of legal conformance that is a great thing to discuss with an attorney in the context of a specific law.  From a general accessibility perspective, however, we would tell you that is broadly accessible and aligns with the concept of equivalent facilitation.  That basically means “as long as there is a reasonable way for the functions to be accessed you have flexibility in how they are accessed.”

Q: Would an IoT device that is not natively accessible, but is accessible via a secondary device constitute “equivalent access”?

//TS: We would tell you “yes.”  In terms of positioning and justifying that to the market there is some work to be done there.  We would also look at costs, usability and market adoption of the secondary devices in making that determination.

Q: JavaScript libraries – as referenced in the webinar – are often used for interface elements on websites. There are many available and they are used for a lot of purposes and they often don’t have any focus on accessibility. Are there any JavaScript libraries that your team feels do a very good job of taking accessibility into account?

//TS: Basically, no – different libraries, different accessibility issues.  All libraries have some issues. We do like some of the more main stream and widely used libraries and internally use modified jQuery UI in our stack (that’s not an endorsement of that library – just a data point that we use it).