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What is the DOJ’s New Regulation on Web Content & Mobile App Accessibility? 

On April 24, 2024, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Title II Web and Mobile Accessibility Regulations were published in the Federal Register by the Department of Justice (DOJ). Let's dive into what this rule means for governments or organizations working with governments.  

What is Title II of the ADA? 

Title II of the ADA provides that no qualified individual with a disability shall, by reason of such disability, be excluded from participation in or denied the benefits of the services, programs, or activities of a public entity. 

What does the rule cover? 

This rule aims to ensure that people with disabilities can access the services, programs, and activities offered by state and local governments through websites and mobile apps. Additionally, it will offer clearer guidelines for state and local governments to comply with the ADA.  

Making these government websites and mobile apps accessible to everyone is an important part of digital equity. 

NOTE: Read the Final Rule - Nondiscrimination On The Basis Of Disability; Accessibility Of Web Information And Services Of State And Local Government Entities 

What is the technical standard specified? 

The Department of Justice (DOJ) has set specific requirements to ensure state and local governments comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Title II. WCAG 2.1, Level AA is the technical standard for state and local governments’ web content and mobile apps.  

Who does this apply to? 

The new rule applies to all state and local governments (which includes any agencies or departments of state or local governments) as well as special purpose districts, Amtrak, and other commuter authorities. State and local governments that contract with other entities to provide public services for them also have to make sure that their contractors follow Title II.

Examples of state and local governments include: 

  • Food assistance, health insurance, or employment services 
  • Public schools, community colleges, and public universities 
  • State and local police departments 
  • State and local courts 
  • State and local elections offices 
  • Public hospitals and public healthcare clinics 
  • Public parks and recreation programs 
  • Public libraries 
  • Public transit agencies 

Compliance Deadlines 

State and local governments must make sure that their web content and mobile apps meet WCAG 2.1, Level AA within two or three years of when the rule is published, depending on their population.  

  • For public entities with a population of 50,000 or more, the compliance date is April 24, 2026. 
  • For public entities with a population of less than 50,000 or a special district government, the compliance date is April 26, 2027.  

How to know the total population of a school district? 

  • If it is a city school district, it would use the population of the city to know when to comply. 
  • For a county school district, it would use the population of the county.  
  • If it is an independent school district, it would use population estimates. 

Exceptions 

The DOJ has set forth specific exceptions - If the content falls under an exception, that means that the public entity would not need to make the content conform to WCAG 2.1 Level AA. However, a person may request the public entity to provide the web content or content in mobile apps to in an accessible format and the entity will need to address the person’s request.  

  • Archived web content  
  • Content posted by a third party where the third party is not posting due to contractual, licensing, or other arrangements with a public entity  
  • Preexisting conventional electronic documents 
  • Individualized documents that are password-protected 
  • Preexisting social media posts  

Use of Conforming Alternate Versions 

The concept of conforming alternate versions refers to having two versions of the same content: 

  • Inaccessible main version: This is the primary page most users see. 
  • Accessible alternate version: This is a separate page with the same information but designed to be accessible for people with disabilities. 

The use of conforming alternate versions is, however, discouraged as the goal is for everyone to have equal access to the information directly on the main page. There is limited exception for the Alternate Versions. The rule allows conforming alternate versions where there must be a technical barrier (e.g., limitations of a specific software) or a legal restriction preventing the main page from being accessible. 

For any other scenario, the focus should be on making the main content accessible to all users directly. 

Minor Accessibility Issues: A Narrow Exception 

The rule acknowledges that there might be some rare cases where a government website or app doesn't fully meet WCAG accessibility standards in a very minor way. 

  • Focus on No Impact on Users: The key factor is whether this minor issue actually hinders access to the information or functionality for people with disabilities. 
  • Difficult to Claim Exception: It is important to note that governments can't simply use this as an excuse to avoid making accessibility efforts. 
  • High Burden of Proof: If a government agency does claim this exception, they would have to provide significant evidence to demonstrate that the minor issue has no real-world impact on accessibility. 

In simpler terms, while there's a narrow exception for absolutely minimal accessibility issues, the overall emphasis is on state and local governments taking concrete steps to make their websites and apps accessible to everyone. 

Conclusion 

Time to move to WCAG 2.1 – Level AA! Let’s not wait for the deadlines and focusing on digital accessibility. 

Reach out to us to make your website content or mobile apps conform to WCAG 2.1 Level AA.

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