U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) and U.S. Representative John Sarbanes (D-MD-03) 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.
Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), a member of the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee and author of the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA), and Representative Anna G. Eshoo (CA-18), senior member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, recently introduced the Communications, Video, and Technology Accessibility Act (CVTA). The CVTA updates and amends the CVAA to keep pace with the proliferation of emerging technologies that have come online since Senator Markey’s 2010 bill was passed with bipartisan support, and will ensure that people with disabilities have full access to the range of mainstream communication products and services that are necessary to participate equally in professional, educational, recreational, and civic contexts, while laying a foundation for accessibility in future technologies.
Fast forward 32 years since ADA and a dozen since CVAA were first passed and nearly everyone now has the World Wide Web on a smartphone with them at all times. We use the web for everything from sending email and reading news like we did in the past to producing HD quality videos, running all sorts of web applications, home automation, hanging out on social media, streaming movies and music, listening to podcasts, sports and Howard Stern as well as a bazillion other things that I don't do but you and many others might.
Thus, [these two bills, Websites and Software Applications Accessibility Act and [Communications, Video, and Technology Accessibility Act (CVTA)][ are the most important pieces of civil rights for disabled people legislation introduced in the US Congress since ADA itself.
This Legislation At A Glance
- Will codify the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines as a requirement for all web sites
- Will extend ADA coverage to all web sites, not only those with a brick and mortar presence.
- Will extend ADA coverage beyond the Internet to apps and other vital technologies
- Will provide a standard way to enforce the law.
- Will require streaming services to provide video description
- Will codify standards for accessibility on stream media platforms
- Will require that technologies yet to be invented be accessible
What Do We Need To Accomplish?
Both of these bills will easily pass in the House of Representatives so we need to find 60 US senators to agree that these bills be opened for debate, debated and passed and, due to the new make up of the House coming in January, we need to do it this month.
So, What Can We Do?
If we want to see this new legislation pass and enjoy the benefits of it, we need to act quickly.
Calling, Writing and Visiting
Every US citizen (with some exceptions) over the age of 18 is an eligible voter, this includes disabled people of course. People under 18 can add their voices and help make noise around these two bills as well and they should be sending emails and making phone calls as, while they can't vote yet, this legislation effects their lives too.
I list five common techniques used to push hard for legislation. I want to add first, though, that, if you choose to participate in action to get this legislation passed, you do so as politely as possible if you are sending emails or making phone calls, always be polite, remember that the person to whom you are speaking or writing is not your representative but one of their employees who is likely poorly paid so remember to be kind to them as all they can do is take down your message and push it up the ladder to your representative. If you choose to visit your congress person or Senator's office, whether the home office or the one in Washington, try to be cordial, polite and state your position as clearly as you can. If you visit one of these offices, make certain you aren't carrying anything that can even resemble a weapon, this would include your Leatherman toolkit or other item you may not ever think of as a weapon. If you're in person at one of the offices, do not touch anyone else unless you're invited to (someone might offer a blind person an elbow to follow and doing so would be fine) and do not say or do anything whatsoever that could be considered violent. We don't want anyone hurt over this kind of action as it will only bring us bad publicity, get you arrested on a charge more severe than a misdemeanor like loitering or disturbing the peace and will definitely be counterproductive. Remember, Mohandas Gandhi defeated the incredibly powerful British Empire without violence, Martin Luther King accomplished a lot without violence, we don't need to use violence to affect change either.
- You have two US Senators and one congressperson. So, the first thing you should do is to write to them telling them you live in their district and ask them to support these two pieces of legislation. You can find contact information for US Senators and House members at these sites.
Those of you who are good storytellers should include your personal stories in your emails to your representatives and, if you're a veteran disabled as a result of your heroic work fighting for our nation, make sure they know that too. We're not asking for pity, we're just saying who we are and that we expect the same civil rights as everyone else.
You have a phone so use it. Call your representatives offices and leave a message stating that you live in their district and ask that they support these two bills.
If you can get to your representatives local offices without too much trouble, pay them an unannounced visit (look up their hours first) and tell their staffers about this legislation and urge them to tell their boss to support both.
If you can get to the US Congress building, go there and visit as many offices of congress people and Senators as you can. tell them about this legislation, show them why it's important to you, have a nice chat with their staffers and move onto the next office and visit as many as you can.
If you can think of other strategies, please share them with us in the comments section below but I moderate comments and any suggestion of using violence against people or property to affect this change will not be posted here.
If we don't fight for our own civil rights, we're going to lose them. We have about a month to get these two bills passed. We've a hundred senators and so we've a lot of people to talk to in that month. But, there are 7.5 million blind people (NFB's number) and many more people with more popular disabilities in the US so a phone call and email from as many of us as possible can make a big difference. History has shown that both republicans and democrats have supported our civil rights in the past, we need to remind them of this history, that we're Americans and that we vote. Because of the short amount of time we have to act, it's unlikely that we can do more than send emails, make phone calls and visit offices but, at the very least, we need to try.