Where is the DOJ Going with Web Accessibility Legislation?

June 28, 2016

By: Josef Pevsner, Business Development Executive

Photo credit: http://www.3playmedia.com/2016/04/12/demystifying-corporate-web-accessibility-qa-with-john-foliot-of-w3c/ 

The Department of Justice recently issued a statement on its proposed amendments to Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), essentially delaying the changes to 2017 or beyond.  Title II of the ADA governs non-discrimination in state and local governments, and the proposed amendments relate to the accessibility of state and local government websites and ICT.  While this “punt” came as no huge surprise – they have now delayed all three proposed ADA web accessibility amendments to date – many see this as additional proof the DOJ doesn’t view web accessibility as a legislative priority. 

After reading the Department’s newly issued Supplemental Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (SANPRM), I’m actually more confident that the DOJ is taking web accessibility seriously.  In the SANPRM, the department seeks additional comments on a number of issues that will also likely inform Title III changes. By doing so, they are addressing key facets to ensure that the amendments won’t need to be re-amended in a few years as the Internet continues to grow in size and complexity.

Below, I’ve listed and explained six key portions of the SANPRM that shed light on the direction the DOJ has set forth for future web accessibility legislation.

  1. Accessibility Standard: The DOJ is sticking with the proposed WCAG 2.0 Level AA standard, and this is likely to become the de facto standard for future laws.  This doesn’t come as a big surprise.
  2. Timeframe for Compliance: The DOJ is strongly considering giving covered organizations two years from publication to comply, a departure from previous guidance that suggested different timelines for new web pages versus existing ones.  This mirrors the period chosen by the Department of Transportation (DOT) for their landmark accessibility mandate in 2013.
  3. Potential Compliance Exemptions: The DOJ is considering adding exemptions for web content that is either a burden to make accessible, or non-essential.  This could include archived content, third party content, links to third party content, and conventional electronic files such as PDFs that existed before the compliance deadline.
  4. Mobile App Coverage: The DOJ is considering including mobile applications as part of the compliance measure, and is exploring the standards that should be associated for mobile app compliance.  There are multiple standards to consider, but no clear cut choice.
  5. Social Media Coverage: The DOJ considers social media platforms as covered by Title III, and does not cover use of platforms by public entities.  However, the department states that content posted to these platforms has to either be accessible or offered in a separate accessible format.
  6. Measuring Compliance: The DOJ is trying to formulate a plan for measuring compliance, specifically with regards to new releases for web content, when minor non-compliance issues arise.  The department wants to make sure entities have enough time to vet and fix issues on new content without getting sued/fined, but they also need to be firm in addressing non-compliance.  They are considering whether certain issues might be weighed more than others, based on how essential they are to site use.

In the US the ADA is the definitive set of guidelines for proper creation of accessible experiences, including web and mobile accessibility. Clear guidance is important in a country where over 49 million consumers live with disabilities. Rather than punt on adopting accessibility for their digital properties, companies should be proactive in embracing WCAG 2.0 AA standards, rather than wait for a new mandate and ruling from the DOJ. It’s just a matter of time.

Read Why Every Website Needs an Accessibility Audit to see the five steps Usablenet takes to ensure a company's digital experiences meets mandatory legislation. 

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