In a monumental step towards inclusivity, Attorney General Merrick B. Garland recently signed a Final Rule under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This rule aims to ensure the accessibility of web content and mobile applications (apps) for individuals with disabilities, and assigns a standard, WCAG 2.1 AA, as the measure of compliance.

The Crucial Role of Web and Mobile Accessibility

Every day, people rely on the internet and mobile apps to access vital services and information, from emergency alerts to educational resources and public programs. However, when these digital platforms are inaccessible, individuals with disabilities encounter significant obstacles. Simple tasks like accessing government forms, tax information, or public transit updates become daunting or impossible without accessibility features.

The DOJ has responded to longstanding calls from Congress as well as agencies and private organizations to clarify ADA compliance metrics. This final rule explains how state and local governments must eliminate barriers and ensure equal access to government services for individuals with disabilities.

Understanding the Impact of the Rule

The final rule mandates specific technical standards for state and local governments to guarantee the accessibility of their web content and mobile apps. These standards, specifically Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) Version 2.1, Level AA, developed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), are crucial for fostering inclusivity and enabling individuals with disabilities to fully engage with public programs and services.

The Fact Sheet released by the DOJ highlights the importance of addressing not only web pages but also documents found on websites, notably calling out PDFs in examples.

What organizations are affected by this final rule?

“…All services, programs, and activities of public entities (also referred to as “government services”), including those provided via the web.  It also includes those provided via mobile apps.” This means state and local government,. school districts, police, fire, and emergency services, libraries, and any organization or agency overseen by state or local government. 

Compliance Deadlines

State and local governments have two to three years, depending on their population size, to ensure compliance with the rule’s requirements. Any documents currently in use or relevant to ongoing activities must be accessible, even if they are archived. Specific examples, many involving PDF documents, are outlined. This means state and local government organizations have the next 2-3 years to resolve their accessibility issues, INCLUDING their PDFs. 

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While the rule sets forth clear accessibility standards, it also acknowledges exceptional circumstances and provides flexibility for compliance. For instance, archived web content and preexisting conventional electronic documents may be exempt from meeting WCAG 2.1, Level AA under specific conditions. Thoroughly review the Fact Sheet to understand these exceptions, bearing in mind that in many cases they do not apply.

New Rules, More Inclusivity

The new rule on web and mobile accessibility underscores the importance of ensuring equal access to digital content for individuals with disabilities. By finally identifying WCAG standards as a measure of compliance in this Final Rule, the DoJ has fully defined what constitutes “accessible.” Through the implementation of accessibility measures, state and local governments can cultivate inclusivity and foster equal participation in public programs and services.