More than 33 years after the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law, its regulations maintain their purpose–to ensure that people with disabilities can access the products, services, and information they need, when and where they need it. But as technology changes, organizations are unclear what exactly accessibility should look like. In 1990, people got their products, services, and information mostly in person, or perhaps over the phone. Tasks that once required a trip out such as banking, shopping, doctor appointments, and more are now easily accomplished online. Moreover, people expect that this is how they will be accomplished. In 2022, over 90% of Americans have internet access and nearly 76% of U.S. adults shopped online.
The existing ADA regulations outline extensive specifications for the built environment, but not the digital space, because at the ADA’s inception, no one anticipated how integral the internet would be. The ADA requires that all places of public accommodation be accessible, which ensures that the ADA can be applied to any new situations or technology as they arise. However, the lack of clear, specific regulations has caused uncertainty. Without a clear standard by which to measure their success, businesses and government agencies alike are hesitant to tackle digital accessibility. They don’t want to spend thousands of dollars on accessibility only to discover they’d done it wrong.
Title II updates: state and local regulations coming
The ADA doesn’t specifically address digital accessibility for every organization (yet), but the Biden administration recently introduced regulations to clarify Title II of the ADA, which will apply to state and local governments. The proposed rule was introduced and sent to the Federal Register for publication on Jun 25, 2023, the anniversary of the first signing of the ADA. The proposed rule is open to the public for comment until October 3, 2023.
State-level accessibility laws
In addition to federal digital accessibility requirements through Section 508, many states have passed legislation covering digital accessibility compliance.
California- The Unruh Act and AB-2917
The Unruh Act has been in effect since 1959, originally prohibiting any discrimination by brick and mortar businesses. Any organizations violating the ADA are also in violation of the Unruh Act. Like the ADA, Unruh does not spell out clear digital accessibility requirements.
However, a recent update, AB-2917, approved in September of 2022, requires the California Commission on Disability Access to develop informational materials and toolkits to “address and facilitate compliance with accessibility standards and requirements for internet websites.” The aim of the Unruh Act is to protect California residents from discrimination, so any organization anywhere in the country can face litigation under the Unruh Act if they target California residents.
California- AB 434
Like Title II, AB 434 requires all California state agencies to make their web content accessible to people with disabilities by complying with Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act and Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 level AA (or subsequent version). To ensure accountability, all state agencies are required to post a signed certification from the agency’s Chief Information Officer saying that their website is indeed accessible and compliant.
In June of 2021, Colorado enacted HB21-1110, which specifically requires state and local government agencies to make their websites accessible. All digital content must meet WCAG 2.1 AA standards by July 1, 2024. Violators could face injunctive relief in the form of a court order to fix the inaccessible website, or a possible fine of up to $3,500.
Illinois- Information Technology Accessibility Act (IITAA)
The Illinois Information Technology Accessibility Act requires all state government agencies and universities to ensure their digital content is accessible to people with disabilities. The IITAA requirements mirror Section 508 and WCAG 2.0 AA. The Act was recently amended with HB26 to extend digital accessibility requirements to third party online curriculum available to students.
In July 2023, Governor Healy of Massachusetts issued an Executive Order creating a new Digital Accessibility and Equity Governance Board. This board and its members will assist the state’s Executive Office of Technology Services and Security (EOTSS) in creating, adopting, maintaining, and enforcing digital accessibility requirements. Massachusetts already had an existing Enterprise Information Technology Accessibility Policy (based on Executive Order 348) which ensured state IT solutions are accessible, but this takes accessibility beyond a policy and creates an entire department to bolster the efforts of the EOTSS. It will also assist other agencies within the state to promote best practices, policies, and standards to enhance digital accessibility across the state.
Like the latest proposed rulemaking from the DOJ, these state laws are primarily focused on state and local agencies (with the exception of California’s Unruh Act). As digital accessibility regulations begin to expand, it is reasonable to expect these laws to eventually extend to private companies. Local and state government agencies and the private sector organizations they work with should proactively begin addressing digital accessibility–including backlogged and archived PDF documents– immediately.
Most of these regulations reference standards like Section 508 or WCAG to ensure compliance, and even Section 508 references WCAG. If you want to proactively address PDF accessibility, using the international standard of WCAG is a reliable way to ensure your documents are accessible.
How to tackle PDFs:
Templated high-volume documents like statements, reports, and other customized documents can be remediated in batches using Equidox AI.
Individual documents can be remediated with minimal effort with Equidox Software
Call us to see how easy ADA compliance for PDFs can be.
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Nina comes to Equidox 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.”