DOJ halts efforts for website accessibility

DOJ halts efforts for website accessibility

Source: National Law Review — 7/31/2017

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has put website accessibility regulations that would have been based on the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) on the back burner indefinitely.

However, this doesn’t mean businesses are in the clear. If anything, due to the patchwork of litigation occurring out there based on ADA and other laws like the ADA, it has created an uncertain legal climate for businesses. DOJ creating regulations would have actually helped to clarify regulations and made it much easier for businesses to avoid needless litigation. National Law Review said it better than I could have, so I’ll just quote them here:

At first blush, fewer regulations may appear to be a positive development for the business community; however, the lack of official standards ensures that the only guidance for businesses open to the public (so-called “places of public accommodation”) and state and local governments is the developing and generally unfavorable body of case law in this area. For the time being, the only official standard in this realm is for entities covered under Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, federal agencies and federal contractors. Pursuant to the final rule published by the U.S. Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board (Access Board), these entities’ websites must conform to the Website Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 Level AA (WCAG 2.0 AA) standard. As WCAG 2.0 AA is the only official standard that has been adopted regarding websites, this standard is likely the best option for Title II and Title III entities that are striving for compliance with the ADA.

In addition, hopes have been dashed that any regulatory effort may provide relief to the business community in the form of a “safe harbor,” grace period, options for alternatives to website accessibility, or clarity on how strictly a website must comply to avoid liability under the ADA.

As a result, private businesses may want to consider complying with WCAG 2.0 AA at the earliest possible time as the best hope to avoid liability and litigation. In the absence of immediate compliance, steps can be taken to provide accessibility to web-based services through alternative means and to generate a compliance schedule and plan to which the business is prepared to adhere.

So there you have it: DOJ has pretty shelved accessibility for the web for the time being, and businesses have been left in the lurch due to not having a clear path forward. Businesses at this point would certainly benefit from simply going ahead and creating/adhering to a plan of achieving accessibility.

Tech Report: FDA joins the 21st century!

Tech Report: FDA joins the 21st century!

Source: National Law Review — 7/31/2017

Summary:
On July 27, the FDA published its Digital Health Innovation Action Plan for implementation of the 21st Century Cures Act and also says what else FDA is doing to develop an innovative approach for the regulation of digital health products.

As part of this plan, FDA launched a voluntary pilot program intended to help create a new pre-certification program for eligible digital health developers. The goal is to create a new program that would allow FDA to pre-certify developers that meet certain quality and other criteria. This would let pre-certified developers market their lower-risk technology without having to go through FDA pre-market review.

The plan includes the following:

  • 21st Century Cures Implement Guidance: covers mobile medical tech, general wellness guidance, medical device data tech, medical image storage tech, and medical image communication device tech.
  • Clinical Decision Support Software: Basically software that helps medical professionals make decisions. Good example is an artificial intelligence developed by IBM called “Dr. Watson”. Once this is implemented, we can expect to see greater usage of AI in medical care. Exciting!
  • Multi-functionality: covers what the heck to do about technology that includes both regulated and unregulated functions. Examples include wearable products that have sensors to measure health/fitness and medical conditions. If Fitbit develops a way for their devices to non-invasively measure glucose levels for diabetic people via sweat, this would fall under this guidance.

But of course, it’d be entirely reasonable to expect FDA to move slowly on this. FDA has said they don’t plan on releasing their plan for public comment until the first quarter of 2018. Even then, that’s just the commenting process- most likely we wouldn’t see it kick in (if they even pass it) until 2019 or later. Depending on which way the wind blows. But hey, it’s progress. Sort of.

In any case, if FDA is serious about getting this out of the door, kudos and welcome to the 21st century!

ZVRS Acquires iDeafNews

ZVRS Acquires iDeafNews

ideafnews zvrs acquisitioniDeafNews has recently announced on 2/3/2016 the acquisition by ZVRS of iDeaf News.  iDeafNews issued a statement:

“Today, a historic partnership is announced between iDeafNews and ZVRS! Since 2010, iDeafNews has been the premier source for current news and topics about and for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing community. With this new relationship between ZVRS and iDeafNews, we are excited to bring even more empowered access to the community we serve!”

iDeafNews also released a video by iDeafNews founder, Seth Gerlis, announcing the acquisition along with ZVRS CEO Sherri Turpin.  That video is below.  In the video, Gerlis and Turpin are sitting next to each other, with an interpreter sitting behind Turpin.  At the start and end of the video, Turpin signs, while for the large majority of the video, she speaks verbally while relying on the interpreter behind her to sign for her.  Gerlis signs for the entire video.

Video Transcript

While this video announced the acquisition of iDeafNews, in the video, it was repeatedly stated that it was with the intention of supporting Seth Gerlis as a Deaf business owner of iDeafNews.  With respect to Turpin and Gerlis, the acquisition means ZVRS is now legally recognized as the de-facto owner of iDeafNews, with Seth Gerlis operating iDeafNews.  ZVRS is helmed by CEO Sherri Turpin, whom replaced Sean Belanger when he retired back in August 26, 2015.

'Z wants to be known in the community as supportive on many levels, and in particular, it's important to me to support a Deaf business owner.' Sherri Turpin, ZVRS CEO, during announcement of iDeafNews acquisition
11924756_10156176958785495_6324697057045766051_n

CEO Profile

Turpin comes to ZVRS from EarthLink where she served as Channel Chief, leading a sales organization with a strong focus on marketing and brand recognition.

Turpin comes from a strong management background, with over 15+ years of experience in the telecommunications industry, specializing in Business Development, Sales, Marketing, Operations and Customer Experience.

Throughout her career, Turpin has been recognized for her leadership, by winning various awards and honors, one of these being the 2015 Circle of Excellence Award, presented by Channel Partners.

Source: ZVRS

Sherri Turpin
CEO, ZVRS

Turpin was appointed CEO (August 26, 2015) well after ZVRS was acquired by Kinderhook Industries on February 10, 2015.

When Turpin became CEO, Chris Wagner, a member of ZVRS’ Executive team, commented: “Sherri will bring a new perspective and energy to ZVRS. Her leadership and knowledge will move us to the next level, where our customers are the #1 priority.”

If you’re interested in seeing the press release by Kinderhook, it can be seen below.  Otherwise, feel free to skip the below information box.

KHI_LogoNew York, NY – Kinderhook Industries, LLC (“Kinderhook”) announced today the acquisition of CSDVRS, LLC (“CSDVRS” or the “Company”) from M/C Partners, Providence Equity Partners and Communication Service for the Deaf. CSDVRS is the first platform investment from Kinderhook Capital Fund IV, a private equity fund raised in 2014 with $500 million of limited partner capital. The transaction represents Kinderhook’s eighth healthcare platform investment and twenty-first transaction in the healthcare sector. Financial terms of the transaction were not disclosed.

Headquartered in Clearwater, FL, CSDVRS operates two business segments, ZVRS (“Z-Video”) and Stratus Video Interpreting (“Stratus”), both of which leverage the Company’s expertise in video conferencing to provide interpretation services. Z-Video provides video relay services to the deaf and hard of hearing, allowing them to connect with hearing individuals over video telephones or similar devices such as iPads, via American Sign Language interpreters. Stratus provides video remote interpretation services to the healthcare, legal and enterprise markets – providing Limited English Proficiency individuals the ability to communicate in these settings with the assistance of interpreters via video conference on-demand.


Sean Belanger, CEO of CSDVRS, said, “We are excited about our partnership with Kinderhook. Our vision is to continue to provide world-class video translation services to the deaf and hard of hearing population in the U.S. and the necessary tools to let the world hear the voice of the deaf community. Kinderhook’s extensive healthcare experience will enable us to pursue our next stage of growth.”

“Sean and his management team have built Z-Video into a nationally recognized provider of video relay services,” said Chris Michalik, Managing Director at Kinderhook, “which enable deaf and hard of hearing individuals to communicate with hearing people worldwide. Further, Stratus’ market leading position, technology and best-in-class service provide a unique value proposition to the hospital and legal market. Stratus offers hospitals and courtrooms all the benefits of face-to-face translation services at a fraction of the cost of a full-time interpreter. Kinderhook is looking forward to partnering with accomplished industry veterans to continue to build a leading company in the healthcare information technology industry.”

Kirkland & Ellis LLP served as legal counsel to Kinderhook. Financing for the transaction was provided by GE Capital.

The CEO of Kinderhook Industries has no listed CEO, but has five managing directors listed, with Thomas Tuttle being listed first.  It is not clear which of those managing directors would be considered the executive director for Kinderhook Industries.  Searches on Google to determine if any of those directors or ZVRS CEO Turpin had any background with the deaf/hard of hearing community; those searches turned yielded nothing.  It appears all of the managing directors of Kinderhook Industries, and the CEO of ZVRS, are all hearing, and had no prior background in the deaf community prior to ZVRS.

tomtuttle robmichalik chrismichalik corcarruthers paulcifelli
Thomas Tuttle
Managing Director
Kinderhook Industries
Robert Michalik
Managing Director
Kinderhook Industries
Christian Michalik
Managing Director
Kinderhook Industries
Corwynne Carruthers
Managing Director
Kinderhook Industries
Paul Cifelli
Managing Director
Kinderhook Industries

ZVRS is not deaf-owned nor deaf-operated, the same can be said for their parent company, Kinderhook Industries.  So to be technical, iDeafNews is now no longer a Deaf-owned business; although it’s still deaf-operated.  While I’d have preferred ZVRS simply invest in them rather than acquire them outright, it at the very least is encouraging that it is still deaf-operated and I look forward to that continuing for some time to come.

Reactions from the community on Twitter has been mixed, with some seeing this as an awesome opportunity for greater access to deaf news:

While others shared concerns about potential bias influencing news coverages by iDeafNews:

Even competitors seem generally supportive of the move:

IMG_9343“[They had] an interesting angle of an interpreter in the back of the CEO. I’ve never seen an interpreter positioned like that. I’m happy for them, I hope iDeafNews continues to grow.”
– Alex Abenchuchan, deaf host of the Daily Moth, a competitor of iDeafNews

With organizations like CSD, Michigan Deaf Association, and colleges like RIT/NTID congratulating iDeafNews and ZVRS on the acquisition, and general excitement from consumers on Facebook, it appears to be clear most in the deaf sector see this as a good move.

As always, feel free to post comments below.  If you provide new information, I will be happy to update this post with the new information.  ZVRS/iDeafNews also shared a FAQ addressing commonly asked questions below for your reading pleasure.

ZVRS iDeafNews Acquistion FAQ

ZVRS / iDeafNews Frequently Asked Questions

How will this change the news stories iDeafNews shares?
Everything you enjoy about iDeafNews will not change, but there will be even greater access to the stories you want to see, and a greater variety of programs from different perspectives.

Will Seth Gerlis still anchor iDeafNews?
Yes! Seth is the heart and soul of iDeafNews.

What role will ZVRS have in how iDeafNews creates and shares stories?
ZVRS is proud to support a Deaf-owned organization and will only serve to provide resources and support to create the great videos and stories that iDeafNews viewers love to see.

How does ZVRS benefit from this partnership?
iDeafNews provides access to news, stories and issues relevant to the Deaf community. We want to broaden that access by investing in the community through iDeafNews.

How does iDeafNews benefit from this partnership?
The opportunities are endless for iDeafNews because of this relationship.  More stories, more access, more news!

What’s next?
You’re going to love it! We have lots of wonderful expanded news coverage, programs, and exciting stories coming soon.

If I have questions, who do I contact?
We would love to hear from you! Feel free to email us at: social@zvrs.com or reach out to us through social media.


About iDeafNews

ideafnewsiDeafNews provides live and pre-recorded video news via the Internet specifically oriented to the interests and education of deaf and hard of hearing (DHH) people.  iDeafNews believes that through their news programs, deaf and hard of hearing people throughout the United States and, eventually, the world, enjoy and benefit from news pertinent to their lives as DHH people. Providing news gleaned from all over the world, which is related to DHH concerns and interests, is our focus and our mission.  Becoming and staying abreast of news that relates to the deaf community can help develop the informed, well-rounded person each aspires to be.


About ZVRS

zZVRS is a nationally recognized provider of VRS services that enable deaf and hard of hearing individuals to communicate with hearing people worldwide. Through its ZVRS business unit, the Company provides videophone hardware, software and accessories designed to enable a real-time video connection with certified ASL interpreters who relay conversations between parties. The Company’s Stratus business unit provides interpretation services to the healthcare, legal and enterprise markets – connecting clients with interpreters in over 180 spoken and signed languages on an on-demand basis.


About Kinderhook Industries

KHI_LogoFounded in 2003, Kinderhook is a private equity firm with over $1.25 billion of committed capital and an investment philosophy based on combining senior management and operating experience in a variety of industries with the financial and investment know-how of private equity professionals. Kinderhook primarily makes control investments in companies in which the firm can achieve significant financial, operational and growth improvements. The firm targets orphaned non-core subsidiaries of corporate parents, existing small capitalization public companies lacking institutional support and management-led recapitalizations of entrepreneur-owned companies. By providing access to capital, strategic advice and an extensive network of relationships, Kinderhook has a history of successfully building privately held firms in partnership with management.


Will Comcast data caps be a problem for the deaf?  Probably.

Will Comcast data caps be a problem for the deaf? Probably.

Comcast-LogoWhen I read the article “Comcast data caps make life for deaf difficult” by Wes Williams (posted at MarketPlace.org on November 11, 2015), it caught my attention because of two reasons:

  • I’m deaf
  • I’m a Comcast customer

I decided to do some fact checking before forming an opinion on the matter. While I have not tried measuring how much data a typical VRS call would consume, I can rely on similar data. Skype recommends 1.5Mbps for both upload and download (for HD video).

Here’s the math part, if you’re comfortable with it, go ahead and keep reading. Otherwise, skip on past the math part.

Mbps is megabits per second. So I head on over to Google, type in “1.5 Mb * 60” to find out how much data is in a minute. Google replies saying 11.25 megabytes (MB). Great, now let’s find out how many per hour: “11.25 MB * 60” gives me 675 MB.

So one hour’s worth of a video conversation, using that metric, would be 675 megabytes (MB).

Now we know what one hour represents, let’s figure out how many hours one would have to chat over video before hitting Comcast’s data cap of 300 GB:

(300 GB) / (675 MB) = 444.45 hours worth of data

Now to figure out how many hours per day:  444.45 / 30 = 14.815, or about 15 hours a day

Assuming 30 days in a month, that’s roughly 15 hours worth of time chatting via videophone for every single day of the month before one would hit Comcast’s cap.  Based on that, nothing for us to worry about.  That is, unless you happen to be someone who seriously loves being on the videophone for every single waking hour of your day for every single day of the month.  In that case, I’m impressed.

Some would argue that’s assuming the ONLY data consumed is by videophone, that we also use the internet for email, streaming videos via Netflix/Hulu/etc, reading news, and so forth. Some would also argue that this math is assuming that there is only one person using the internet at a particular location.
Both very good points.

According to broadband solutions provider Sandvine, the average household consumes 52 GB per month of general data.

So if we deduct 52 GB from the 300 GB cap, that would mean one would only have 248 GB, or 367.41 hours worth – in other words, one would be able to use videoconferencing for up to 12.247 hours per day, even with standard data usage.

Of course, if one has quite a data-intensive household, the cap would still be of concern. But for the rest of the average households, including those within the deaf and hard of hearing community, I have serious doubts that this is worth breaking a sweat about.

However, the metrics are for THIS year. According to Sandvine, data consumption by the average household increased 120% from last year to now. If this same trend continues for the next five years, then the average household data consumption would be 312 GB – well violating Comcast’s 300 GB data cap. Not surprising, with the advances technology has been making lately. So for the next few years, Comcast’s data cap is fine. But Comcast would be well advised to ensure that the data cap remains scalable, so they can adjust it based on average household usage on an annual basis to ensure the cap remains reasonable for the majority of households. This would mean Comcast would need to continue to innovate and stay ahead of the curve to be able to sustain so much data consumption, but considering Comcast’s claims to be innovative, I think they’ll do just fine staying ahead, especially with other competitors eyeing Comcast’s enormous market share.

My conclusion? The article about Comcast’s cap hurting the deaf/hard of hearing community is not entirely accurate. The author of that article would be well advised to run the metrics before making such a claim that it is currently hurting the deaf/hard of hearing community at large. It isn’t hurting the community at this time. It will, but not quite yet.

Should the community urgently worry about this NOW? No. But should the community be concerned about this and work with Comcast as well as other internet providers to ensure the cap scales up as the years go by? Absolutely, because they’ll slam right into the cap if it doesn’t change in less than five years, especially if the trend Sandvine identified continues to hold – with those who rely on video relay services getting slammed with overage fees well before everyone else, and pay dearly out of their wallets for it.

If you’re curious as to how much data you consume per month, just check your bill, or you can make an estimate by doing your own math here: http://www.broadbandnow.org/resources/data-usage-calculator/

Explosion in Activity re: Airlines and Captioning

Explosion in Activity re: Airlines and Captioning

Picture of Nyle DiMarcoAmerican Airlines LogoThere has been a storm brewing on Twitter regarding in-flight captioning, with the latest bombshell being by Nyle DiMarco about American Airlines’ challenges in ensuring accessibility for the deaf and hard of hearing community.  Nyle DiMarco is an American actor and model. He is the first and only deaf contestant to appear on America’s Next Top Model, a popular TV show.

American Airlines responded in three different tweets to Nyle.  Those tweets combined are below:

“We have a limited number of close captioned movies for customers with a hearing disability.  Currently, we do not show closed-captioned TV viewing as a standard feature.  The Fact that close-captioned writing on small screen may cover the monitors.”

Others in the deaf/hard of hearing community weighed in:

After many more others in the deaf/hard of hearing community weighed in, American Airlines followed up with this:

Communication Service of the Deaf (CSD, based in Austin, TX) decided to check to see where public opinion stood on the matter by posting a quick Twitter poll:

At the time of this post, 92 people voted in the CSD Twitter poll, with an overwhelming 95% in favor of airlines providing captions as a standard feature on all in-flight videos.

While dated, but very much relevant to this developing situation, U.S. Senator Harkin commented in the past saying “I have been trying for some time to get the airlines to provide closed captions on the movies on their airplanes. I can’t understand why they don’t do it. It doesn’t cost anything,” after the Senate Appropriations Committee voted to send the measure to the full of the floor Senate.

The group that lobbies for airlines in Washington told The Hill that the industry’s opposition to closed captioning in-flight movies was being overstated by Harkin.  “As onboard entertainment technology is rapidly changing, airlines will continue working collaboratively with DOT and all stakeholders to further enhance the travel experience for our customers,” Airlines for America spokesman Vaughn Jennings stated on the matter.

I saw several people stating they had cancelled their American Airlines ticket.  It’s a safe bet to say that this snafu is costing American Airlines a couple thousand dollars; a drop in the bucket to be sure in face of $1.9 billion dollars in profit from 2014, but if nothing else, money talks.  That’s not counting how many people who were considering buying tickets from American Airlines that ended up buying from a competitor thanks to the snafu.  There were even several who stated they would never buy from American Airlines — and most of those were not deaf/hard of hearing.  So clearly the effect from this is being felt not just within the deaf/hard of hearing community, it’s also being felt by general public.

This is on the foot of recently effective regulations by the U.S. Department of Transportation, which requires all airports to ensure all their televisions has closed captioning activated (not including TVs outside the facilities, such as airplanes).  Via Aberdeen:

In September of 2011, the U.S. Department of Transportation issued a notice of proposed rule making in Docket OST 2011-0182 titled, “Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Disability in Programs or Activities Receiving Federal Financial Assistance (U.S. Airports).” The DOT issued this final rule to amend section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which requires accessibility in airport terminal facilities.

The ruling states:

“…airport operators will be required to enable or ensure high-contrast captioning at all times on televisions and other audio-visual displays capable of displaying captions located in any gate area, ticketing area, first-class or other passenger lounge provided by a U.S. or foreign carrier, or any common area of the terminal to which passengers have access.”

This will also apply to other audio-visual displays located in any space leased by a retailer or restaurant. Airport operators will now be obligated to ensure that the proprietor enables the captioning feature on their displays in a manner that satisfies this requirement.

Additionally, this ruling states that airports shall ensure the availability of mechanical lifts to provide level-entry boarding for passengers with mobility impairments flying on small commuter aircraft. Airport operators must also provide suitable facilities for service animals.

After 4 years, this ruling just went into effect yesterday, October 5, 2015, and will apply to airport facilities located in the United States that receive Federal financial support and service 10,000 or more annual passengers. They will have 30 days to fulfill these responsibilities.

There were well-intentioned but incorrect mentions by several for Nyle to contact either the U.S. Federal Communications Commission or the U.S. Department of Justice in regard to the inaccessibility by the airline, saying that this was a violation of either the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) or the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA).

The actual state of the matter is that failure to caption in-flight entertainment is not a violation of the ADA/CVAA.   Additionally, FCC and DOJ does not have jurisdiction over airlines — especially over planes & in-flight entertainment.  Jurisdiction for this actually lies within the Department of Transportation (DOT).  DOT’s version of the ADA would be the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA).

For violations or complaints regarding accessibility on airlines, especially when it comes to in-flight entertainment or any other accessibility issues on planes, people would be well advised to contact the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Aviation Consumer Protection Division.  Their contact information is below:

U.S. Department of Transportation
Office of Aviation Enforcement and Proceedings
Aviation Consumer Protection Division
1200 New Jersey Ave, SE
Attn: C-75-D
Washington, DC 20590

United States

Phone: (202) 366-2220
TTY/Assistive Device: (202) 366-0511
Business Hours:
8:30am-5:00pm ET, M-F
Note from DOT:  
The complainant should provide:
  • His or her full name, address, telephone number, e-mail address, if any, and the name of the party who suffered the alleged discriminatory conduct, if other than the person submitting the complaint;
  • The name of the air carrier involved in the incident, as well as the date of the incident, the place where it occurred and the flight number(s) involved;
  • A detailed description of the incident that you believe constituted discriminatory action, including names of those involved (or a description of the individuals) and names of any witnesses; and
  • Any other information you believe might be helpful in supporting your complaint. Please send copies (not originals) of any pertinent documents you have relating to the incident (e.g., ticket, boarding passes, itinerary sheets, and correspondence to and from the carrier involved).

The implementation of Closed Captioning in in-flight entertainment (IFE) systems continues to be a major issue.  DOT is expected to weigh in on the matter after December 2015.