In early August, the Department of Justice (DOJ) revealed plans to start the legislation process related to “Non-discrimination on the Basis of Disability: Accessibility of Web Information and Services of State and Local Governments.”
The announcement stated that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) affirms that:
- “No qualified individual with a disability shall, by reason of such disability, be excluded from participation in or be denied the benefits of services, programs, or activities of a public entity, or be subjected to discrimination by any such entity,” but;
- “Many websites from public entities (i.e., State and local governments) fail to incorporate or activate features that enable users with disabilities to access the public entity’s programs, activities, services, or information online.”
- Additionally, it publicised that the DOJ “intends to publish a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) to amend its Title II ADA regulation to provide technical standards to assist public entities in complying with their existing obligations to make their websites accessible to individuals with disabilities.”
The NRPM is expected to be completed and published around April of 2023, where the public will be allowed to make comment on the DOJ’s proposed regulations by no later than June of 2023.
However, the Title II of the ADA is only applicable to “public entities” (e.g., local and state governments), the NRPM and inevitable regulations will not apply to private businesses but should still be considered an important development for reasons listed below.
The DOJ is a primary federal government agency that is liable for enforcing the ADA, and any groups that are concerned with website accessibility implementation (businesses, courts, public interest groups) whom have all been seeking guidance regarding website accessibility standards for some time. This has been the case due to the increase significance of the internet in individuals’ day-to-day lives, which was not anticipated at the time the ADA was signed by President George H.W Bush in 1990. As a result of the lack of clarity specific to statutory language, courts and regulators have attempted to produce standards for web accessibility but these efforts have resulted in unfair implementation and diverse interpretations of how ADA should apply to websites. Meaning there is still no universal guidance for common accessibility barriers such as when websites must be accessible and how to make websites accessible.
Since the signing of the ADA, multiple administrations have announced plans to publish regulations, but none to date have followed through. In March of this year, President Joe Biden issued basic guidelines, however this failed to answer majority of the important questions surrounding accessibility barriers.
It is expected that there will be a second announcement regarding an NRPM and the Title II of the ADA specific to private businesses that will be separate to the NRPM recently announces.
Developments will be closely monitored by many media outlets. It is recommended that businesses wishing to prepare for the potential regulation and alleviate current risks in relation to website accessibility should comply with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 Level AA. This is considered the ‘gold standard’ for website accessibility when there is an absence of guidelines from federal governments.