Senator Duckworth and Representative Sarbanes Introduce Bill to Make Websites and Mobile Applications Accessible to Individuals with Disabilities 

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Senator Duckworth and Representative Sarbanes Introduce Bill to Make Websites and Mobile Applications Accessible to Individuals with Disabilities 

WASHINGTON, Sept. 29, 2022 — Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) and Representative John P. Sarbanes (D-Md.) introduced The Websites and Software Applications Accessibility Act (S. 4998) and (H.R. 9021) in both the United States Senate and the House of Representatives. 

The American Council of the Blind (ACB), the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB), the National Disability Rights Network (NDRN), and the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) commend Sen. Duckworth and Rep. Sarbanes for their leadership and for introducing this legislation with the full support and collaboration of the disability community. Once passed, this legislation would require the Department of Justice and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to establish a clear and enforceable uniform national framework for website and software application accessibility, reaffirm that existing disability rights law covers websites and software applications, and ensure that accessibility standards keep pace with new and emerging technologies.

With respect to a website or application, accessibility means a website or application that enables individuals with disabilities to access the same information as, to engage in the same interactions as, to communicate and to be understood as effectively as, and to enjoy the same services offered to other individuals with the same privacy, independence, and ease of use as individuals without disabilities.

For example, blind and low vision people often use screen-reader technology that reads the content of websites and applications aloud or displays it on a compatible braille device; people who are Deaf and hard of hearing utilize closed captioning and remote video interpreters; people with physical disabilities such as limited manual dexterity may require websites that have full keyboard navigation; and people with communication or speech-related disabilities may encounter barriers if a website uses voice interaction or provides phone numbers as the only method to communicate with the business.

“Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, and well before, so many Americans relied on the Internet to work from home, order home goods and connect with loved ones — and yet, too many websites and apps remain nearly impossible to use by Americans with disabilities, barring them from these experiences and opportunities,” said Senator Duckworth. “I’m proud to introduce this legislation with Congressman Sarbanes to finally help make the web and other technology more accessible for all users, including those in the disability community.”

“Digital innovation is only as powerful as it is inclusive. As new and emerging technologies have been incorporated into our daily lives, digital inaccessibility has prevented Americans with disabilities from reaching a broad range of health, education, employment and other critical resources. To address this civil rights issue and remedy this longstanding inequity, we need uniform, consistent standards that lay out what true digital accessibility is and provide adequate mechanisms to enforce it,” said Congressman Sarbanes. “The Websites and Software Applications Accessibility Act will require federal agencies to provide clear regulations for reducing barriers to web accessibility and help businesses and state and local governments work toward compliance. Senator Duckworth and I are pleased to introduce this legislation with the input of disability advocates to take an important step to achieving equity and inclusion for all Americans.”

“We are delighted that this bill was introduced, and that Congress is finally giving this issue the attention it deserves. We need to make sure that people who are blind or have low vision are not left behind as our world moves into an increasingly digital environment,” said ACB President Dan Spoone.

“The past few years have shown us how important it is that our digital infrastructure is accessible to everyone,” said Stephanie Enyart, Chief Public Policy and Research Officer for the American Foundation for the Blind. “Numerous research studies have revealed digital accessibility barriers, so this bill will transform access to employment, education, healthcare, and all other aspects of daily life for people who are blind and have low vision.  We applaud Senator Duckworth and Representative Sarbanes for introducing this legislation and committing to a digital society that is inclusive of all people.”

“In a generation where technology has opened countless doors, it’s appalling that so many users with disabilities are still kept from full access to websites and applications because they are not designed with universal access in mind, nor do they properly interact with assistive technology,” said NDRN’s Deputy Executive Director for Public Policy Eric Buehlmann. “It’s absolutely imperative that all people with disabilities have equal access to online resources. We thank Senator Duckworth and Representative Sarbanes for working with us on this much needed legislation.”

“Although we have had some success in vindicating the right of blind Americans to live and work in our increasingly digital world, individual complaints and agreements simply cannot keep pace with the expansion and evolution of technology, and entities who want to effectively serve customers with disabilities are asking for guidance,” said Mark Riccobono, President of the National Federation of the Blind. “We therefore urge the United States Congress to act swiftly on this common-sense legislation that will finally close the gap caused by inaccessible technologies and clarify and enforce what our nation’s disability laws and policies require.”

This legislation is supported by the following disability and civil rights organizations: Access Living, American Association of People with Disabilities, American Council of the Blind, American Foundation for the Blind, Association of Programs for Rural Independent Living, Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, Blinded Veterans Association, CommunicationFIRST, Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund, Epilepsy Foundation of America, Hearing Loss Association of America, National Association of the Deaf, National Council on Independent Living, National Disability Institute, National Disability Rights Network, National Federation of the Blind, Paralyzed Veterans of America, Telecommunications for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, Inc., The Arc, United Spinal Association, and Vietnam Veterans of America.