DOJ Scraps Updates to Web Accessibility Rules in ADA Title II
Updated: January 4, 2018
Amidst a flurry of web accessibility lawsuits, disability advocates have eagerly awaited updates to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) that would clarify state and local governments’ responsibility to make the web fully accessible.
In a surprising move, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) decided last week to withdraw their plans for updating ADA Title II and start the rulemaking process all over again.
The DOJ submitted an Advance Notice of Public Rule Making (ANPRM) to clarify the ADA Title II’s application to the internet presence of state and local governments back in 2010. It idled in the ANPRM stage for four years before being submitted for official review in July 2014.
Nearly two years later, the DOJ chose to scrap the NPRM titled Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Disability; Accessibility of Web Information and Services of State and Local Government Entities (RIN 1190-AA65).
While the move is disappointing for advocates who have been pushing for a resolution for years, the DOJ has not abandoned the issue. In a public statement about their decision to start over, the DOJ reaffirms its commitment to encouraging web accessibility for all:
Rulemaking addressing Web accessibility requirements is a high priority for the Department. The increasingly interconnected and dynamic nature of Web sites allows for easy and convenient access to the programs, services, and activities of public entities covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
Yet, individuals with disabilities are often denied equal access to the services, programs, and activities of State and local governments because many public entities’ Web sites are inaccessible.
Public entities have also expressed the need for accessibility standards to help them meet their responsibility to provide equal access.
The Department believes that adopting technical standards clarifying how to make a Web site accessible is crucial to achieving the ADA’s mandate.
The New SANPRM
Title III of the ADA will also be reviewed to clarify whether or not “places of public accommodation” can be purely digital places. The DOJ’s NPRM for Title III has been delayed repeatedly and is currently forecasted for 2018.
In the same motion that the DOJ discarded the old NPRM, they issued a new Supplemental Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (SANPRM) titled Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Disability; Accessibility of Web Information and Services of State and Local Government Entities.
The new SANPRM is intended to focus more on the specifics of accessible design. While the old NPRM intended just to establish that the internet is covered by the ADA, the new SANPRM will hopefully offer details on web accessibility standards that will be expected of government websites.
The DOJ is accepting public comments on the SANPRM regarding:
- Official adoption of WCAG 2.0 Level A and/or AA guidelines
- Whether 2 years is long enough (or fast enough) for entities to comply with new regulations
- The possibility of making live-streaming audio content WCAG 2.0 AA compliant within 3 years of the new regulations
- If and how the ADA Title II applies to mobile apps
- What requirements should extend to third-party content linked to on a government website
- Whether social media for a government entity should be covered by this rule or by the ADA Title III NPRM
- How archived web content should be covered
- Whether smaller public entities should be held to a lower standard (e.g., longer timeline to comply, or requiring only WCAG 2.0 Level A instead of AA)
- If and how password-protected web content is covered
- Any information about the cost of remediation that would aid the DOJ in setting realistic regulations
Public comments will be accepted for 90 days from the date the SANPRM is published in the Federal Register.
UPDATE: The SANPRM posed more than 120 questions for public comment, the period for which closed on October 7, 2016. The DOJ has announced it would propose the new rules in July, 2017.
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