DOJ Issues New Web Accessibility Guidelines

In light of recent increases in litigation and a sense of public confusion regarding web accessibility requirements, the Department of Justice (DOJ) has issued new, more detailed guidance on what is required under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

New Web Accessibility Guidance Issued After Long Silence

Many business owners and public institutions have expressed concern over unclear web accessibility guidelines, since the most recent DOJ guidance on the topic dates back to 2003 and addressed only websites owned and operated by the government. Disability advocates and privately owned businesses alike have beseeched the DOJ to provide additional guidance. While it is far from comprehensive, the newly released guidelines do provide some clarity. The press release and a link to the complete text of the guidance can be viewed here.

Who Do Web Accessibility Guidelines Apply To?

It’s important to note that, like other provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the need for web accessibility does not only apply to government entities. While previous guidance released by the DOJ focused primarily on state and local governments, this guidance clarifies that most entities open to the public are subject to web accessibility guidelines. The new document specifically addresses banks and retail institutions. This means that ecommerce websites, as well as informational websites for businesses like law firms, accountants, and much more are subject to the ADA’s web accessibility provisions. In light of the new, more explicit guidance, courts are likely to be less lenient with businesses. Direct responsibility for accessibility has now been firmly established.

What Constitutes a Web Accessibility Barrier?

Since the portions of the ADA pertaining to accessibility of physical spaces have been around for longer, there are numerous, acknowledged clear guidelines regarding height, distance, and other aspects of how a business can comply. Digital accessibility is still relatively new, so the needs for it are not quite as firmly established. While the new DOJ guidance doesn’t tell us everything, it does give more details. The DOJ’s technical standards remain the best guiderails a business can use to determine whether it is following accessibility principles. The most recent versions of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines and the Section 508 standards offer clear recommendations on how to keep a website accessible. Because these standards are very technical, and some deal with small aspects of your website that you may not even think about, it is generally best to rely on a web professional to ensure maintenance of these requirements. 

How Have Web Accessibility Standards Been Applied to Businesses in the Past?

In the interest of further enlightening business owners and the public with regard to web accessibility requirements, the DOJ guidance also provides a list of the ADA has been applied in the digital sphere to date. The guidance addresses steps taken to reconcile with RiteAid, whose online portal for vaccine registration was deemed inaccessible; Teachers Test Prep, Inc., whose online video courses did not provide captions; HRB Digital and HRB Tax Group, whose websites did not allow people to use assistive technology; and others. Details on these cases and agreements and many more are available to the public.

What Does This Mean for Businesses?

After a long period of silence, the DOJ’s new statement places responsibility squarely on business owners to make sure all of their publicly available spaces are accessible, even the digital ones. For a long time, enforcement policy has served as de facto evidence that this is true, but now it is explicit. This drives home the need for accessibility. Not only is it critical to provide accessibility for those who need it, it is also a legal requirement. Without achieving digital accessibility, you could lose out on potential customers and be liable for ADA violations.

Where can you turn for assistance achieving accessibility standards? WebArc is excited to serve as your accessibility partner. Contact us for a web accessibility consultation today.

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Chantelle Gossner

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