Accessibility Enhancements on the Horizon for HBO Max Customers Who are Blind

For Immediate Release

October 19, 2020

Contacts

Meredith Weaver, Staff Attorney, Disability Rights Advocates: 510-665-8644, mweaver@dralegal.org

Tatum A. Pritchard, Director of Litigation, Disability Law Center: 617-723-8455,
tpritchard@dlc-ma.org

Kim Charlson, Immediate Past President: 617-501-5752, kimcharlson@acb.org

 

Accessibility Enhancements on the Horizon for HBO Max Customers Who are Blind

 

In a landmark agreement, advocates for people who are blind have obtained WarnerMedia’s pledge to increase the accessibility of HBO Max—the much-anticipated online streaming platform that was launched earlier this year. Among other commitments, the agreement provides that WarnerMedia will provide audio description on at least 1,500 hours of new and existing programming on HBO Max by the end of March 2021, increasing to 3,000 hours by the end of March 2022, and doubling again to at least 6,000 hours in total by the end of March 2023.

The agreement was reached between WarnerMedia Direct, LLC on the one hand and the American Council of the Blind (ACB); the Massachusetts-based Bay State Council of the Blind (BSCB); Kim Charlson; and Brian Charlson on the other. These blind individuals and advocacy organizations were represented by Disability Rights Advocates (DRA), a national non-profit legal center, and Disability Law Center, the Protection & Advocacy agency for Massachusetts.

HBO Max is WarnerMedia’s direct-to-consumer offering, bringing together HBO, a robust slate of new original series, key third-party licensed programs and movies, and fan favorites from WarnerMedia’s rich library including Warner Bros., New Line, DC, CNN, TNT, TBS, truTV, Turner Classic Movies, Cartoon Network, Adult Swim, Crunchyroll, Rooster Teeth, Looney Tunes and more.

Under the agreement, WarnerMedia will ensure that audio description—a separate audio track that, when activated, provides a verbal description of visual elements on screen—is created on a going forward basis for all HBO original programming as well as all Max Originals that have entered post-production since the platform launched in May 2020. For more on audio description, visit ACB’s Audio Description Project.

In addition, over the next year, accessibility of the HBO Max website, mobile applications, and applications for Internet-connected TVs will be improved for individuals who are blind and use screen-reading software to navigate and interact with digital content. Screen-reading software enables blind individuals to access and interact with online services by rendering the text displayed visually on the screen as large print, synthetic speech, or onto a digital braille display. For screen magnification and screen-reading software to work, website and app developers must program for compatibility. HBO Max will release accessibility improvements incrementally as they are ready for distribution and, by the end of September 2021, the HBO Max website, mobile applications, and available internet-connected TV applications will substantially comply with standard international web accessibility guidelines.

Kim Charlson, Immediate Past President of the American Council of the Blind, commented, “This agreement opens doors for individuals who are blind or visually impaired to both enjoy what HBO Max provides in terms of entertainment and education, while also allowing blind and low vision people to share equally with family and friends in this truly universal pastime. By working together to bring thousands of additional hours of audio description content to HBO Max, along with the improved accessibility of the website, mobile apps, and smart TV interfaces, WarnerMedia and blind advocates are providing meaningful access to a significant aspect of our modern-day world.”

Staff Attorney Meredith Weaver of Disability Rights Advocates explains, “We are very pleased at the commitment HBO Max has made to ensure that customers who are blind or have low vision have access to its award-winning and expansive library.”

Tatum A. Pritchard of Disability Law Center, said, “With this year marking the 30th anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act, this agreement with WarnerMedia signals welcome and notable progress towards greater accessibility for people who are blind or visually impaired to streaming content that serves as an important source of both entertainment and information for our society.

############

About Disability Rights Advocates (DRA)

DRA is one of the leading non-profit disability rights legal centers in the nation. With offices in Berkeley and New York City, DRA’s mission is to advance equal rights and opportunities for people with all types of disabilities nationwide. To advance that mission, DRA regularly advocates for greater access to modern technology. DRA has negotiated access improvements to several types of popular technologies including Redbox self-service video rental kiosks. For more information, visit www.dralegal.org.

About Disability Law Center (DLC)

DLC is the federally designated Protection and Advocacy agency for Massachusetts responsible for providing legal advocacy to protect and promote the rights and interests of Commonwealth residents with disabilities. DLC has worked with Bay State Council of the Blind to address accessibility barriers in important spheres of community life, including matters concerning banking services and voting processes. For more information, visit www.dlc-ma.org.

About American Council of the Blind (ACB)

ACB works to increase the independence, security, equality of opportunity, and quality of life, for all people who are blind or visually impaired. ACB advocates for policies that provide services, opportunities, infrastructure, and equipment that are necessary for an inclusive society, in federal, state, and local governments, and among service providers and industry. For more information, visit www.acb.org.

About Bay State Council of the Blind (BSCB)

BSCB is a membership organization of blind, visually impaired, and sighted individuals committed to an enhanced quality of life for Massachusetts’ residents who are blind or visually impaired. BSCB convenes meetings and conferences, organizes recreation activities, provides publications, radio programs, and information, and advocates for services and legislation that improve access for people who are blind. For more information, visit www.acbofma.org.


Loader Loading...
EAD Logo Taking too long?

Reload Reload document
| Open Open in new tab

Download [324.50 KB]

Federal Court Approves Agreed Judgment In Case That DLC Filed To Ensure Accessible Vote By Mail For Voters With Disabilities

Contact: Tatum A. Pritchard, Director of Litigation

tpritchard@dlc-ma.org or 617-723-8455 Ext. 138

October 13, 2020

FEDERAL COURT APPROVES AGREED JUDGMENT IN CASE THAT DLC FILED TO ENSURE ACCESSIBLE VOTE BY MAIL FOR VOTERS WITH DISABILITIES

Today, U.S. District Court Judge Douglas P. Woodlock issued a Judgment in Rivero, et al. v. Galvin, et al., 1:20-cv-11808-DPW, a suit that DLC filed on October 2, 2020 on behalf of four individual plaintiffs, Boston Center for Independent Living (BCIL), and Bay State Council of the Blind (BSCB). In the Complaint and Motion for Preliminary Injunction, plaintiffs alleged that the existing Accessible Vote by Mail (AVBM) program that the Secretary of the Commonwealth put in place shortly before the primary – following DLC’s filing of an emergency petition in the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court – failed to provide meaningful access to the voters with disabilities for whom it was created to accommodate in violation of Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation. Specifically, the AVBM program prevented voters who are blind or have low vision, mobility/dexterity disabilities, or other disabilities that make it difficult or impossible for them to effectively access standard printed text (“print disabilities”) from casting their AVBM electronic ballots without third party assistance.

Per the terms of the Judgment issued today voters with print disabilities will now be able to cast their AVBM electronic ballots via email to the Secretary’s AVBM Coordinator, along with an accessible electronic affidavit that can be completed with a typewritten signature for voters whose disabilities prevent them from inserting a hand-drawn signature. Voters participating in the AVBM program may also still submit their electronic ballots by mail by printed and placing them in the envelopes provided by local election officials.  This Judgment constitutes a critical victory ensuring that Massachusetts voters with disabilities can exercise their right to vote privately and independently in the upcoming general election without risking exposure to COVID-19 at the polls.

DLC also thanks our individual plaintiffs, BCIL, and BSCB for their efforts in getting this resolution. In addition, DLC recognizes the Secretary of the Commonwealth for his office’s willingness to respond to plaintiffs’ allegations and quickly negotiate the terms of this important Judgment.

The processes that voters must follow to request access to and cast their ballots through the AVBM program is described on DLC’s website and updated information reflecting the changes ordered by the Judgment should be available soon on the Secretary’s website. While DLC encourages voters with print disabilities to apply as soon as possible, the Secretary must accept requests for accommodations and applications per the Judgment until 5:00 p.m. on October 28, 2020. DLC invites feedback from voters with disabilities who have difficulty getting access to the AVBM program or experience challenges completing the process to submit their ballots.


Related Documents

Complaint

Memorandum of Law in Support of Motion for Preliminary Injunction

Motion for Preliminary Injunction

Judgment

Final Judgment in DLC’s Emergency Petition Concerning Accessible Electronic Vote by Mail

Contact: Tatum A. Pritchard, Director of Litigation

On August 21, 2020, DLC filed an Emergency Petition with the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts – Charlson, et al., v. Secretary of the Commonwealth, No. SJ-2020-0588 – on behalf of six individual petitioners, Bay State Council of the Blind (BSCB), and the Boston Center for Independent Living (BCIL) concerning the unavailability of accessible electronic vote by mail for the fast-approaching September 1, 2020 primary.

Per “An Act relative to voting options in response to COVID-19,” enacted on July 6, 2020, registered Massachusetts voters with disabilities are entitled to receive access to an accessible electronic vote by mail ballot as an accommodation from the Secretary of the Commonwealth (“the Secretary”). This accommodation is intended to allow voters with disabilities the opportunity to electronically mark their ballot privately and independently using their own assistive technology, print their marked ballot, and mail or hand-deliver it to their local election official to be counted. However, by the date that DLC filed the Emergency Petition, the Secretary had not provided the public with any information concerning the availability of accessible electronic vote by mail or the process for requesting that accommodation from the Secretary. In addition, it was only on the date of filing that the Secretary signed a contract with VotingWorks to create Massachusetts’ accessible vote by mail online system.

The Secretary’s counsel informed Petitioners on August 24, 2020 of the creation of an Accessible Vote by Mail (AVBM) Coordinator position to process requests from voters for an accessible electronic ballot. Following a day of mediation, the Court entered a Judgment in the case on August 26 establishing an extended deadline and special processes to allow voters with disabilities to access an electronic ballot for the September 1, 2020 primary, and retaining jurisdiction to resolve any further disputes. On August 27, the Court allowed the Parties’ Joint Motion to Amend the first judgment, below, filed to resolve a dispute of interpretation.  Altogether, the resulting final Judgment set forth the following:

1.    Registered voters seeking access to disability-based accommodations for the September 1, 2020 primary election received an extension from August 26, 2020 – the deadline for all voters to return their 2020 Application for Vote by Mail to the Secretary – until noon on August 28, 2020 to request said accommodations and submit an application to vote by mail. See Judgment at Para. 4.

2.    Registered voters seeking access to disability-based accommodations to vote by mail in the primary election shall be permitted to seek such accommodations from the Secretary by submitting:

a.    A request via email or telephone for an accommodation to the AVBM Coordinator stating that the voter seeks an accommodation by reason of a disability and including the voter’s first name, last name, date of birth, address at which the voter is registered to vote, mailing address, and an email address and/or telephone number; and

b.    A completed 2020 Application for Vote by Mail electronically. An acceptable application signature for this purpose shall be a handwritten signature or an electronic signature, which may consist of the voter’s typewritten name, if accompanied by a statement by the voter that the voter is disabled and does not otherwise have the ability to independently insert an electronic hand-drawn signature.  See Judgment at Para. 2, as amended by the Joint Motion to Amendment Judgment.

3.    If the AVBM Coordinator receives from the voter the completed accommodation request and application as set forth in paragraph 2 and verifies the voter’s registration, the Secretary shall:

a.    Add the voter to the accessible voting system operated by VotingWorks that provides access to an accessible electronic ballot and voter instructions. The AVBM Coordinator will provide the voter with an access PIN;

b.    Provide information to the voter by telephone or e-mail to permit the voter to ascertain the location of where the voter’s completed ballot must be sent in order to be officially cast with the voter’s local election office;

c.    Provide the voter by e-mail an accessible electronic version of the affidavit of compliance – created with the assistance of Petitioners for purposes of this agreement – that must accompany a ballot in order to be officially cast with the voter’s local election office; and

d.    Notify and direct the voter’s local election officials to send the voter by first-class mail: an inner envelope where the ballot is placed after voting which contains an affidavit of compliance to be filled out by the voter, and an outer envelope that is pre-addressed to the local election official with postage guaranteed. See Judgment at Paras. 3, 6.

4.    For the ballot of a voter voting pursuant to the Judgment to be counted, the voter’s local election office must receive (a) the completed and printed ballot and (b) the signed affidavit of compliance bearing the name of the voter, which can be either a printed and signed copy of the affidavit of compliance furnished by the Secretary pursuant to paragraph 3(c) or a printed and signed affidavit of compliance furnished by the local election officials pursuant to paragraph 3(d).

a.    Due to the limited time until the primary election and the potential that the official envelope provided by the local election office , voters voting pursuant to this agreement are permitted to submit these materials in the envelope provided by the local election office or their own envelope no later than the hour fixed for closing the polls on the day of the primary election. See Judgment at Para. 5.

5.    The Secretary shall display on the Election Division’s website information about how a voter may request an accommodation pursuant to this order for the September 1, 2020 primary election. The Secretary’s Election Division’s Twitter account shall also send a Tweet informing the public concerning the provisions of this Agreed Judgment. The Secretary shall also provide information relative to this Agreed Judgment to local election officials. See Judgment at Para. 7.

6.    At the close of business each business day between the date of this order and August 28, 2020, the Secretary shall through counsel report to the Petitioners the number of accommodation requests that have been received by the AVBM Coordinator and the number of requests that have been processed or remain unprocessed (including because the request itself is incomplete). See Judgment at Para. 8.

DLC once again thanks our individual petitioners, BSCB, and BCIL for their amazing assistance and support in getting this important resolution, especially given the incredibly short amount of time left to secure any meaningful relief. However, DLC believes that much more progress needs to be made in ensuring that Massachusetts voters with disabilities have equal access to all voting programs for the upcoming November general election and that granting such access is treated as a priority.

Per the reporting mandated by the Judgment, even with the benefit of the extension and additional measures ordered by the Court, only fourteen (14) people in the entire Commonwealth were approved access to an accessible electronic vote by mail ballot.  Eight (8) additional people attempted to gain access, but their requests for accommodation were deemed incomplete. As a result of the Secretary’s incredible delay in establishing necessary procedures to receive and process requests for accommodations, this is just a fraction of the voters with disabilities for whom an electronic ballot could have granted an opportunity to privately and independently participate in Vote by Mail during the primary election.

DLC invites feedback from voters with disabilities who cannot privately and independently complete paper Vote by Mail ballots and experienced barriers in getting access to an electronic ballot for the September 1, 2020 primary election – whether due to the request for accommodation process requirements, the technology available to you (e.g., lack of a printer), or other reasons.


Loader Loading...
EAD Logo Taking too long?

Reload Reload document
| Open Open in new tab

Download [81.08 KB]

SJC Judgement Issues in DLC’s Emergency Petition Concerning Accessible Electronic Vote by Mail

For Immediate Release

Contact: Tatum A. Pritchard, Director of Litigation

On August 21, 2020, DLC filed an Emergency Petition with the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts on behalf of six individual petitioners, Bay State Council of the Blind (BSCB), and the Boston Center for Independent Living (BCIL) concerning the unavailability of accessible electronic vote by mail for the fast-approaching September 1, 2020 primary. Per “An Act relative to voting options in response to COVID-19,” enacted on July 6, 2020, registered Massachusetts voters with disabilities are entitled to receive access to an accessible electronic vote by mail ballot as an accommodation from the Secretary of the Commonwealth (“Secretary”). This accommodation is intended to allow voters with disabilities the opportunity to electronically mark their ballot privately and independently using their own assistive technology, print their marked ballot, and mail or hand-deliver it to their local election official to be counted. By the date of filing, the Secretary had not provided the public with any information concerning the availability of accessible electronic vote by mail or the process for requesting that accommodation from the Secretary.

Today, the Court entered a Judgement in the case concerning accessible electronic vote by mail concerning the special processes that will be made available to the voters with disabilities who seek access to an electronic ballot for the September 1, 2020 primaries, and retaining jurisdiction to resolve any further disputes. Please be aware, a part of this Judgement, the deadline for requesting access to an electronic ballot for the primary election has been extended from August 26, 2020 to August 28, 2020 at 12:00 PM. The processes for requesting an accessible electronic ballot and for casting your electronic ballot for the fast-approaching primaries are described below.

DLC thanks our individual petitioners, BSCB, and BCIL for their amazing assistance and support in getting this resolution, especially given the incredibly short amount of time left to secure any meaningful relief. However, DLC believes that much more progress needs to be made in ensuring that Massachusetts voters with disabilities have equal access to all voting programs for the upcoming November general election.

DLC invites every voter who requires the accommodation of accessible electronic vote by mail in order to vote privately and independently who is not able to get access to an electronic ballot for the primaries to report the specific barriers that you experienced – whether due to the request for accommodation process, the technology available to you, or other reasons.

How to Request an Accessible Electronic Ballot

In order to get access to the Accessible Vote by Mail System, a voter must first submit a request for accommodation to Accessible Vote by Mail Coordinator electronically to Kelly.Emmons@sec.state.ma.us by August 28, 2020 at 12:00 PM. A voter may also reach the Coordinator by phone at 617-727-2828.

As part of the request for accommodation for the September 1, 2020 primary election, the voter must first provide the Coordinator the following information:

  1. A statement confirming that the voter is registered to vote and requesting use of accessible vote by mail because of a disability;
  2. Full name (first, middle, last);
  3. Voter registration address (street address, city/town, zip code);
  4. Mailing address, if different than voter registration address;
  5. Date of birth;
  6. Email address; and
  7. Phone number.

Second, the voter must email the Coordinator an electronic 2020 Vote by Mail Application available HERE with all of the fields completed, including the date and signature (electronic signature is acceptable). If, because of your disability, you are unable to manually sign or add an electronic signature to the Application form, DLC urges you to also state in your request for accommodation email that you also require an accommodation from the Secretary permitting you to type your name in the signature line of the Application form.

How to Complete the Electronic Ballot and Cast Your Vote

Once the request and Application are received and processed, the Accessible Vote by Mail Coordinator will contact the voter to provide further instructions. The voter’s email address and phone number are requested to ensure that the Accessible Vote by Mail Coordinator can provide the voter with information necessary to access the System.

A voter approved for an Electronic Vote by Mail Ballot will receive a PIN from the Coordinator that will provide entry into the System to complete the Electronic Vote by Mail Ballot. The voter will also receive by email from the Coordinator an accessible electronic affidavit of compliance that must accompany the electronic ballot in order to be officially cast. In addition, the Coordinator will provide the voter will contact information for the voter’s local election office address.

A voter approved for an Electronic Vote by Mail Ballot will also be mailed by first-class mail an inner envelope where electronic ballot is placed after voting that has on it an affidavit of compliance to be filled out by the voter (signature line indicated by hole punch) that is similar in substance to the electronic affidavit of compliance, and an outer envelope that is pre-addressed to the local election official with postage guaranteed. BECAUSE THE PRE-ADDRESSED, POSTAGE PAID ENVELOPE FROM THE LOCAL ELECTION OFFICE MAY NOT ARRIVE IN TIME FOR YOUR BALLOT TO BE COUNTED BY THE SEPTEMBER 1, 2020 PRIMARY, voters may alternatively mail their completed and printed Electronic Vote by Mail Ballot and electronic affidavit of compliance in the voter’s own envelope with necessary postage.

The envelope containing a completed Electronic Vote by Mail Ballot and signed affidavit of compliance must either be mailed to your local election office or hand-delivered to your local election office, an official ballot return box, or to an early voting location during early voting hours.

YOUR LOCAL ELECTION OFFICE MUST RECEIVE THE ENVELOPE WITH YOUR ELECTRONIC VOTE BY MAIL BALLOT AND THE AFFIDAVIT BY 8:00 PM ON SEPTEMBER 1, 2020.


Loader Loading...
EAD Logo Taking too long?

Reload Reload document
| Open Open in new tab

Download [13.35 KB]

DLC Files Emergency Petition with the SJC Concerning Accessible Electronic Vote by Mail

August 21, 2020

Today, DLC filed an Emergency Petition with the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts on behalf of six individual petitioners, Bay State Council of the Blind, and the Boston Center for Independent Living concerning the unavailability of accessible electronic vote by mail for the fast-approaching September 1, 2020 primary.


Loader Loading...
EAD Logo Taking too long?

Reload Reload document
| Open Open in new tab

Download [2.48 MB]

A message from our Executive Director

Friends,

Our nation has been rocked by tragedy and pain during the past few months. We were shaken by the disparate impact that COVID-19 has had on the disability community and communities of color and the widespread economic devastation that followed. As if this wasn’t enough, during the past three months we have also witnessed the senseless murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and now – George Floyd. These murders are the most recent in a long line of injustices and indignities suffered by Black men and women and black transgender people throughout the Nation. As an organization committed to promoting the civil and human rights of all persons with disabilities – and in respect of the undeniable intersections that exist between disability, race, and socioeconomic status in this country – we stand in solidarity with the Black community during these difficult times. Our communities are in pain and we share the fear, anger, and sadness felt by so many. Please know that:

We See You.

We Hear You.

We Stand With You in the fight to eliminate racism and advance racial justice.

Yours in the struggle,

Marlene Sallo

Marlene Sallo
Executive Director
Disability Law Center

Investigations of MCI-Shirley and MCI-Norfolk

On April 27, 2020, DLC informed the Department of Correction that it had found probable cause to initiate investigations of MCI-Shirley and MCI-Norfolk based on reports of prisoners with disabilities within the facilities being denied appropriate treatment and services and living in unsanitary conditions.

Loader Loading...
EAD Logo Taking too long?

Reload Reload document
| Open Open in new tab

Download [162.65 KB]

Loader Loading...
EAD Logo Taking too long?

Reload Reload document
| Open Open in new tab

Download [149.81 KB]

 

DLC & Partners Urge DPH to adopt a statewide hospital visitor policy to accommodate people with disabilities during COVID-19.

DLC and several partners submitted a letter to the Department of Public Health on April 17th urging the adoption of a statewide hospital visitor policy that includes reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities who require a support person to remain with them in the hospital.

Loader Loading...
EAD Logo Taking too long?

Reload Reload document
| Open Open in new tab

Download [173.71 KB]

Font Size
High Contrast