Department of Justice Offers Guidance on Web Accessibility

Seal of the Department of Justice, which issued web accessibility guidance.

After years of silence on the issue, the Department of Justice (DoJ) has finally issued Web Accessibility Guidance to help website owners understand how the ADA applies to their websites. The guidance reviews why website accessibility is important, how websites can comply with Title II or III of the ADA, and how the DoJ is enforcing web accessibility. This is the first time in many years that the DoJ has made any reference to website accessibility guidelines or regulations. 

This guidance uses clear language to simply explain accessibility so every website owner can easily understand what the ADA requires. Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division says, “We have heard the calls from the public on the need for more guidance on web accessibility, particularly as our economy and society become increasingly digitized.”

The ADA applies to government and public websites

The guidance clearly indicates that the DoJ applies the ADA Titles II and III to websites.  Websites of state and local government agencies are covered by ADA Title II, while places of public accommodation are covered by Title III. 

“…The Department has consistently taken the position that the ADA’s requirements apply to all the services, programs, or activities of state and local governments, including those offered on the web,” and also to, “all the goods, services, privileges, or activities offered by public accommodations, including those offered on the web.” [Emphasis added.]

DoJ now prioritizing website accessibility

The DoJ is committed to using its enforcement abilities to promote website accessibility. The guidance cites a number of instances in which the DoJ reached agreements with various government agencies, schools, and private businesses to address and resolve accessibility issues. It makes clear that it has increased its efforts to secure digital accessibility and will continue to do so in the future.

“…the Department is committed to using its enforcement authority to ensure website accessibility for people with disabilities and to ensure that the goods, services, programs, and activities that businesses and state and local governments make available to the public are accessible.” 

Flexible compliance guided by WCAG and 508

While this web accessibility guidance is not a checklist for compliance, it does suggest that website owners use the existing technical standards such as Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) and Section 508 to guide their accessibility initiatives. As long as websites are accessible to people with disabilities, what that accessibility looks like is up to the creativity of the website owner or designer. This allows business owners to offer accessible websites without compromising unique design.

“Even though businesses and state and local governments have flexibility in how they comply with the ADA’s general requirements of nondiscrimination and effective communication, they still must ensure that the programs, services, and goods that they provide to the public—including those provided online—are accessible to people with disabilities.”

What does this mean for organizations?

Now that there is a clear statement from the Department of Justice, organizations can plan to make all digital content and resources accessible. Web accessibility strategies should cover all existing and new content they create and publish, including web pages, applications, and documents (yes, PDFs too!). Here are some ways organizations can start working towards web accessibility:

  1. Plan and budget for digital accessibility, both for legacy and new content
  2. Create an accessibility statement and a roadmap to ensure your digital content is accessible. 
  3. Remediate any inaccessible content as quickly as possible
  4. Hire and/or train your staff in website accessibility 
  5. Build accessibility culture throughout your organization by making content creators responsible for digital accessibility during content creation
  6. Conduct regular audits to ensure your content is accessible

For more details on building a PDF accessibility roadmap, check out this blog.

Certainty for website owners

This web accessibility guidance is a great resource for website owners who can now be certain that the ADA applies to their websites as well as their physical locations. The DoJ also makes clear that it will be enforcing digital accessibility going forward and that website owners can avoid enforcement actions by using standards like WCAG and 508 to guide their web design initiatives.

Need help building a culture of accessibility and a roadmap for PDF remediation for your organization?  We’re happy to help!

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Nina Overdorff

Nina comes to Onix with years of sales and marketing experience from a variety of industries, and holds a BS in Language Arts Education. Nina has a passion for words, storytelling, and information, which she believes everyone should have access to regardless of ability. After spending time as a teacher with a blind student, she became much more aware of the limitations and abilities of web accessibility, and how essential it is to those experiencing disabilities. “Being able to access information equally ensures that everyone has an equal opportunity for education, employment, and success in life.”