by Parnell Diggs
From the Editor: Parnell Diggs is the director of government affairs for the National Federation of the Blind. Before taking his position in 2015, Parnell was a member of the national board of directors. He also served for more than fifteen years as the president of the National Federation of the Blind of South Carolina. Here is what he has to say about the interminable delay in issuing regulations that are so important to blind people wishing to participate fully in the commerce of our nation:
I was a huge basketball fan growing up. Born in Charlotte, North Carolina (and raised by parents who had lived in North Carolina all of their lives), I was imminently familiar with four universities in the state which made up half of the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC), which at that time was comprised of eight schools. I was always partial to the North Carolina teams.
One of my fondest basketball memories is of watching an ACC tournament game with my dad on a weekend afternoon as the North Carolina Tar Heels and the Virginia Cavaliers were involved in a game which had national implications because both teams were ranked high in the polls. I have not investigated the accuracy of my memories of the game (which are now approaching thirty-five years on), but here is the gist.
The Tar Heels had the ball and a one-point lead with thirteen minutes remaining—an eternity in college basketball, especially in a game that close. Tar Heel coach Dean Smith instructed his team to run the “Four Corners” offense, which arguably was actually no offense at all. The players spread out (using all four corners of the court) and passed the ball to each other without taking a shot until the end of the game.
It was only a few years later when men’s college basketball rules were amended to implement a shot clock. There was already a shot clock in the women’s game. I had forgotten about the old “Four Corners” offense until recently, when I read the Supplemental Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (SANPRM) on web accessibility, which is a right already protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
In July of 2010, the Department of Justice (DOJ) issued an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) leading us to believe that much-needed guidance for state and local governments and places of public accommodation on how to insure that their websites were accessible to blind consumers, as required under Titles II and III of the ADA, was forthcoming. For six years we waited with great anticipation.
At the time President Obama called the forthcoming regulations, “the most important updates to the ADA since its original enactment.” The ANPRM was published on July 26, 2010, the twentieth anniversary of the ADA. On July 20, 2015, President Riccobono invited me to be part of a delegation to the White House to celebrate the twenty-fifth anniversary of the ADA. Nearly five years after the ANPRM, we were hopeful that an announcement would be made regarding the web accessibility regulations. We were disappointed.
No such announcement was made at the White House ceremony commemorating the ADA despite the President’s earlier observation of the monumental importance of the web accessibility regulations. As 2015 drew to a close, we were again disappointed when DOJ announced that, in fact, the regulations regarding websites of public accommodations would not be released until 2018 at the earliest.
Then, as if that wasn’t disappointing enough, on April 29, 2016, we were advised that DOJ would be issuing the above mentioned SANPRM, further delaying the release of the Title II regulations as well, which are applicable to state and local government websites.
In a press release issued at the time, Mark A. Riccobono, President of the National Federation of the Blind, said: "This deplorable announcement by the Department of Justice is another example of inexcusable foot-dragging on the issue of web accessibility, which is critical to the education, employment, and daily life of blind Americans. Delaying the equal access of the blind to American society by failing to provide clarity in technology accessibility is inconsistent with the administration’s goal of full participation by people with disabilities. This failure also puts public entities seeking clear guidance on how to meet their obligations to consumers and constituents with disabilities at a severe disadvantage, with no direction on how to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act in the provision of information and services over the internet. The questions that DOJ raises in the Supplemental Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking did not newly arise in the six years since the original Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, nor is the continuing evolution of technology an excuse for revisiting them. The National Federation of the Blind unequivocally condemns today's action and urges the administration to issue proposed rules with regard to equal access under Titles II and III of the Americans with Disabilities Act without further delay. We further urge all political and civic leaders to join with us in calling on this administration to fulfill the promise made and bring clarity to the accessibility of public information, commerce, and education in the twenty-first century. Let’s #UploadTheRegs.”
The current status of the web accessibility issue is best summed up in our June 2016 edition of Imagineering Our Future, which reads as follows: “The need for access to public websites continues to be an area of critical importance to the NFB. Though the courts have increasingly identified that websites fall within the intent and scope of the Americans with Disabilities Act and cannot be vehicles of discrimination and exclusion against blind citizens, the federal government has yet to confirm regulations that would require websites to be accessible to individuals with disabilities. The NFB’s advocacy for such regulations cannot stop until websites are accessible.”
In May the US Department of Justice published its Supplemental Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking titled Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Disability; Accessibility of Web Information and Services of State and Local Government Entities in the Federal Register. In response to the new SANPRM, the NFB is gathering comments and stories from members to highlight the importance of access to state and local government websites. We need your stories, both positive and negative, regarding the importance of accessible state and local government websites—websites for voter registration, applying for a state or local government job, appealing a property tax assessment, renewing a library book, requesting food stamps, registering for a class at your local state or community college, or any other state or local government service. Visit <www.nfb.org/TitleIISANPRM> for steps on how you can help the NFB advocate for accessible websites, and/or contact Kyle Walls at (410) 659-9314, extension 2223, or <[email protected]>. We will be gathering member stories through July 15. Those who are reading this article later in July should know that, while we would like your input by July 15, the DOJ deadline is August 8, 2016. Please get in touch with Kyle Walls if you would like to help, and he will tell you how to do that.
I know that President Obama is a big basketball fan. He would no doubt be familiar with the expression “running out the clock,” as his time in office draws to a close over the next six months. Clearly, the most important updates to the ADA since their enactment will have to wait until a new administration is in place. The danger is that we do not know how important web accessibility will be to the next president.
While talking about the desire to provide guidance, it seems that the current administration is engaging in the old “Four Corners” offense when it comes to the release of the web accessibility regulations. I wonder if we need a shot clock.