DOJ Urged to Restart Digital Accessibility Rulemaking Process

Official portrait of U.S. Senator Patty Murray, who wrote a letter to the DOJ requesting that digital accessibility rulemaking resume.

Accessibility advocates call for clear regulations

Over the past few years, thousands of digital accessibility lawsuits have been filed under the ADA. Unlike the built environment, there are no clear, objective standards by which businesses can assess their websites for accessibility. Without clear rules on how to bring their digital resources into compliance, businesses are simply not doing it, or not doing it correctly. Many accessibility advocates have written letters to the Department of Justice requesting clear standards. 

On July 11, 2022, U.S. Senator Patty Murray, Chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, sent a letter to the Department of Justice requesting that it create more specific regulations as to how the ADA applies to websites. The letter, which was signed by eleven other senators, aims to give organizations clear guidelines for making their websites and digital assets accessible to everyone and avoid digital accessibility lawsuits.

 

Lack of regulations leads to lawsuits

Without clear rules for compliance, businesses and other organizations often fail to make their websites and other digital assets accessible because they can’t be certain their efforts will be enough achieve the ambiguous standard of “accessible.” Courts also disagree on when and how the ADA should apply to the internet. Without certainty in compliance, organizations are at risk of digital accessibility lawsuits. More than 4000 were filed in 2021 alone.

Recently, the DOJ issued a guidance reaffirming their position that the ADA does apply to websites and that they are prioritizing website accessibility. It suggested that organizations refer to existing standards such as Section 508 and WCAG to “guide” their accessibility efforts, but there are still no official federal regulations for compliance. 

 

Restarting digital accessibility rulemaking

To clarify the ambiguity left by the DoJ guidance, senators have sent yet another letter requesting that they restart the rulemaking process that began more than a decade ago. In 2010, the Obama administration called for comments from accessibility experts in their Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) with the end goal of updating the ADA regarding digital accessibility. However, the digital accessibility rulemaking process was withdrawn in 2017 under the Trump administration, stating that the DOJ was evaluating whether or not it was “necessary and appropriate” to create digital accessibility standards. 

 

DOJ must affirm disability rights

In the letter, Murray says, “The United States has invested billions of dollars to develop technology and provide connectivity to all parts of the country, but it is of little value to the Americans who are unable to access the online services that the rest of us so heavily rely on…It is critical that the Department restart the rulemaking and include strong protections clarifying the applicability of the ADA to the Internet. Individuals with disabilities cannot afford to wait any longer for the Department to affirm their civil rights.”

This letter follows several others sent recently to the DOJ and the Veterans Administration (VA), urging increased ADA and Section 508 compliance for state and local government organizations, as well as federal agencies like the VA.

 

Address digital accessibility early

In order to avoid digital accessibility lawsuits and comply with ADA and Section 508, organizations need to make all of their digital resources accessible, including PDFs. Choose which standards best suit your state’s digital accessibility initiatives, as well as the ADA. Then, choose an easy-to-use software to remediate documents in-house, or outsource them to a reputable team who will validate their usability. 

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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.”

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