Justice Department to Issue First-Ever Rules on Web Accessibility under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
In July 2022, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) announced its intention to adopt new rules setting forth web accessibility standards for state and local government agencies. These entities are regulated under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
The public can update themselves about the revised standards in April 2023 if the Department of Justice publishes the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) according to the timeline.
Abstract of the announcement
The announcement came almost half a year after the DOJ issued its guidance on website accessibility and the ADA.
The guidelines disappointed many disability advocates due to legal uncertainty around requirements and a lack of new recommendations.
The abstract states that, ‘many state and local government websites fail to incorporate or activate features that enable users with disabilities to access the public entity’s programs, activities, services, or information online.” To address this issue, the DOJ intends to publish a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) to amend its Title II regulations to incorporate technical standards regarding web accessibility.’
The DOJ characterized the yet-to-be-unveiled standards as an effort to assist public entities in complying with their “existing obligations’ to make their websites accessible under ADA Title II.
The DOJ plans to publish the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) in April 2023, followed by a public comment period and close by June 2023.
What is Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)?
Title II of the ADA prohibits disability discrimination by all public entities at the local and state levels. For example, schools, courts, police departments, public libraries, and public universities must comply with Title II. Compliance is required regardless of whether an organization receives federal funding.
Title II also applies to employment in public entities, meaning disabled employees must not be barred from performing responsibilities because of inaccessible processes or procedures.
Title II mandates that state and local governments:
- May not refuse to allow a person with a disability to participate in a service, program, or activity simply because the person has a disability.
- Must provide programs and services in an integrated setting, unless separate or different measures are necessary to ensure equal opportunity.
- Must furnish auxiliary aids and services when necessary to ensure effective communication, unless an undue burden or fundamental alteration would result.
- Must operate programs so that, when viewed in their entirety, they are readily accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities.
What is the most important part in the DOJ’s announcement?
The most important part of the July 2022 announcement is the Department’s stated goal to help public entitles comply with existing obligations to make their websites accessible. There are no new regulations to follow – just technical standards on what is required. Since the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) are the universally accepted standard and one that the DOJ itself uses and recommends, there is no reason for any public entity to wait for the new regulations.
The DOJ has long required public sector websites to be accessible. The Department continues to negotiate web accessibility with various state and local governments.
- Yakima County, Washington: The Department initiated compliance review of Yakima County, Washington (County) under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act. It directed the County officials to ensure all auxiliary aids and services including digital content are accessible to people with disabilities.
- Robeson County, North Carolina: The Department initiated a review of Robeson County web accessibility compliance under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act. It directed the county to ensure all online communications, services and programs are accessible to people with disabilities.
Source: Lainey Feingold
Why does the DOJ’s announcement matter for the future of web accessibility?
Although the latest announcement addresses web accessibility only in the context of Title II, it provides perhaps the most concrete evidence that the DOJ is moving toward adopting web accessibility regulations that covers web content.
Various stakeholders—including government entities, businesses, courts, and members of and advocates for the disability community—have long wrestled over whether and to what extent the ADA applies to web content, so the DOJ’s planned action promises to provide much-needed clarity on this issue.
5 reasons why the Department of Justice’s attempt to ADA Title II with specific website accessibility standards is meaningful and important:
- Digital accessibility is back on the federal rulemaking radar.
- The accessibility of state and local government web services is critical.
- Federal sites already have regulations in place under Section 508, so this shores up, from a regulatory requirements standpoint, the accessibility of local, state, and federal government web spaces.
- This would be the first time that specific website accessibility regulations are successfully defined under the ADA.
- The technical standards will probably be WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) 2.1.
Source: Lainey Feingold
How codemantra helps state and local government agencies to comply with ADA regulations?
codemantra’s accessibilityInsight™, is designed to assist local governments with their federal government mandated 508 compliance requirements. The AI-powered platform can help reduce the amount of time needed to attain 508 compliance and WCAG AA standards.
The multi-phase document accessibility program involves:
- Assess: Complete compliance assessment and detailed reporting.
- Plan: Prioritization of assets and determination of internal, external, or hybrid remediation approach.
- Document processing: Machine-learning and AI-assisted processing merged with human-assisted review and alt text writing.
- Report: Confirm PDF U/A and WCAG compliance and generate a compliance report.
The Department of Justice has taken the right step to adopt new rules setting forth web accessibility standards for state and local government agencies covered under ADA Title II. This eliminates any claims of ignorance or uncertainty.
Accessibility specialists already know that WCAG provides the best chance at consistent, repeatable, and sustainable accessibility initiatives.
The Department’s initiative to codify WCAG as the formal standard required by law, just like has been done at the federal government level via Section 508, would remove any possibility of state or local governments defending inaccessibility due to lack of clarity in technical specifications and requirements.
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