On June 23, 2017, the Los Angeles Times published an op-ed titled “Is your company’s website accessible to the disabled? You’d better hope so.” The piece was mean spirited and full of inaccuracies about web accessibility.
I took the piece’s alternative facts personally because the author wrongly claimed that Bank of America, Charles Schwab, and Safeway had been sued for web accessibility. I knew better — my clients, co-counsel and I had worked with each of these companies in Structured Negotiation. I had even written about all three companies in my book, Structured Negotiation, A Winning Alternative to Lawsuits. I knew for sure that no lawsuits were filed or needed.
Along with web accessibility champion and WordPress accessibility expert Joseph O’Connor I submitted an op-ed to the LA Times trying to set the record straight about accessibility.
We were told that the paper does not publish op-eds responding to other op-eds, so we re-wrote the piece as a stand alone commentary, not referencing the original article. That too was rejected, and we were told that we could submit a letter to the editor. Joseph and I shortened up our re-written piece and submitted a letter to the editor.
We were rejected again. At least the op-ed editor was nice enough to respond to our submissions. Never did hear back about the letter to the editor.
Below you can read both the full (second) op-ed Joseph O’Connor and I wrote, as well as the abbreviated letter to the editor. Both have the same theme: Web accessibility is about people. People who cannot be part of the digital world without accessibility.
Too bad the Los Angeles Times didn’t find that story worthy of publication.
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Letter to the Editor about Web Accessibility Rejected by the LA Times
On June 11 you published an Op-Ed that demonstrates a profound misunderstanding of web accessibility and misstates facts. (Is your company’s website accessible to the disabled? You’d better hope so, June 11, 2017).
Web Accessibility is about people. More specifically, it is about making sure disabled people can use websites and mobile apps. This happens whenever technology is designed with care, according to well accepted best practices and international standards.
Web accessibility is about deaf people who need captions, veterans whose injuries prevent holding a mouse, or blind customers who listen to text instead of reading it with their eyes. It is about seniors who need to control text size and color contrast. All these people can use websites and mobile applications when they are designed with accessibility in mind.
Your op-ed writer decries lawsuits brought under the Americans with Disabilities Act when a website is not accessible. He claims a trend “began in 2000, when Bank of America became the first entity to settle a web-accessibility lawsuit.” Wrong. Bank of America worked on its accessibility initiative with its blind customers using a problem-solving strategy called Structured Negotiation; no lawsuit was needed or filed. Bank of America has been an accessibility champion since 2000.
The Op-Ed was also wrong about Safeway and Charles Schwab. They too participated in Structured Negotiation, embraced accessibility, and were not sued. The Charles Schwab negotiation began with a blind options trader, and Safeway’s path toward accessibility began in response to blind shoppers who wanted to independently order groceries through Safeway’s home delivery website. A missed market segment now finds it easier to shop on the Safeway site, trade on Schwab’s award-winning platform.
Earlier this month, a blind customer of a different grocery chain won the very first web accessibility trial under the Americans with Disabilities Act. The judge in that case recognized that without accessibility, the Winn-Dixie chain excluded some of its customers.
Your op-ed writer thinks that the Americans with Disabilities Act should not apply to websites “because websites are connected to the global economy.” Of course they are, and so is accessibility. That’s why major international technology companies – including Microsoft, Apple, and Google – have made significant commitments to accessibility.
These companies are part of an international drive for accessible technology, spearheaded by advocates around the globe as well as governments, NGO’s, education organizations and private companies. The movement recognizes the importance of accessibility for everyone.
In the 21st century, life happens online and on our mobile devices. Without accessibility we tell disabled people they don’t belong here; tell seniors they can’t be part of the national conversation. The absence of accessibility prevents businesses from increasing revenues, governments from serving the public.
Luckily, the international movement for accessibility is strong and growing and won’t let that happen.
Signed — Lainey Feingold and Joseph Karr O’Connor
Web Accessibility Op-Ed Rejected by the LA Times: Web Accessibility is about People
Web accessibility is about people. The blind business owner selling her jewelry online, the disabled veteran who can’t hold a mouse, the deaf student assigned videos, the forgetful senior. These people can make sales, find a doctor, get a good grade, and fill out a form if care is taken in creating web sites, apps, and other technologies.
Blind baseball fans love Major League Baseball’s award winning site and mobile app because MLB has chosen to embrace accessibility and include blind fans in all its digital baseball offerings.
As a lawyer who represents blind people, Lainey Feingold worked with her clients and the sports giant on its accessibility initiative. Using a problem-solving strategy called Structured Negotiation, no lawsuit was needed or filed. MLB stepped up to the plate (so to speak) and became a leader in providing accessible websites and mobile apps.
Thousands of organizations have embraced accessibility. Like MLB, some have worked in Structured Negotiation to remove barriers that prevent users from visiting websites and take advantage of all they offer. A negotiation with Charles Schwab began with a blind options trader who navigates sites independently with talking software that reads a screen aloud and provides navigation cues. Charles Schwab didn’t need to provide that software, it just needed to design its site with accessibility in mind. It did, and Charles Schwab became an accessibility champion.
Bank of America is also an accessibility champion – the first to provide customers with an accessible online banking platform built for all users. More recently, the financial giant recently worked with a blind homeowner to ensure its site allowed her to independently read online mortgage documents. Accessibility is about people.
Safeway’s path toward accessibility began in response to blind shoppers who wanted to independently order groceries through Safeway’s home delivery website. No lawsuit was needed – and a missed market segment now finds it easier to shop on the Safeway site.
Another grocer — Winn-Dixie — recently faced a lawsuit about its website, and this month, one of its blind customers won the very first web accessibility trial under the Americans with Disabilities Act. The judge recognized that without accessibility, Winn-Dixie was excluding some of its customers.
The ADA recognizes we live in a country that values everyone’s contribution. Digital accessibility is a crucial component of being able to contribute. Some argue that the ADA should not apply to websites. The Judge in the Winn-Dixie case recognized that it does.
But the benefits of accessible technology are not just for disabled computer users like the Winn-Dixie shopper, the Charles Schwab investor, or the Bank of America mortgage holder. Businesses, governments, the digital economy as a whole, and all of us, benefit when websites and other digital content is available to everyone.
That’s why major international technology companies – including Microsoft, Apple, and Google – have made significant commitments to accessibility.
These industry leaders know that web accessibility does not require designers to use fewer pictures or particular colors. Accessibility simply allows more users to understand what the picture is and why it’s there.
Accessibility happens on the back end. Users who don’t need the accessibility won’t even know it is there – except that all users typically find an accessible website easier to read and navigate. (Have you experienced text that is so light it can hardly be seen? Accessibility makes sure that doesn’t happen.)
Accessibility is essential for some… but it is useful for all.
People who misunderstand accessibility think that site owners need to install special technologies for the blind or hearing-impaired. Not so. All websites and mobile applications are coded – accessible ones are simply coded with the understanding that there will be a variety of users.
International standards to make websites accessible have existed for almost two decades. Best practices to accompany those standards are well developed and in use across the globe.
Yes, accessibility is global.
Just as websites are connected to the global economy, there is a global drive for accessible technology. It is spearheaded by advocates around the world as well as governments, NGO’s and international companies. And it recognizes the importance of accessibility for everyone.
“Everyone” includes our disabled veteran and seniors who may use technology differently than a 25-year-old non-disabled millennial. Everyone includes students across the globe who rely on technology for education, advancement, and jobs. Everyone includes the world’s citizens who need the government services that more and more frequently are found online.
Globally, the Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities (CRPD) protects people’s rights to access and use information and technology. Here in the United States, the ADA does the same.
In the 21st century, life happens online and on our mobile devices. Without accessibility our country tells disabled Americans they don’t belong here. It tells seniors that they can’t be part of the national conversation. It prevents businesses from increasing revenues, governments from serving the public. It hampers the global economy and the lives of global citizens.
Luckily, the international movement for accessibility is strong and growing and won’t let that happen.