ADA Digital Accessibility Rule Enacted

Over three decades since the Americans with Disabilities Act became law, federal authorities are implementing landmark regulations to clarify its application in the digital sphere. This month, the U.S. Department of Justice is poised to finalize a pioneering rule delineating technical standards for the digital accessibility of websites and mobile apps falling under Title II of the ADA, a significant move toward elucidating its online implications.

These regulations extend to online services provided by state and local governments, encompassing vital offerings ranging from public transportation and voter registration to emergency services, education, healthcare, and tax administration.

Attorney General Merrick B. Garland emphasized the importance of this final rule in ensuring equitable access to government services, programs, and activities for all individuals, regardless of disability status. By establishing clear and consistent accessibility standards for digital content, this rule advances the ADA’s core promise of fostering equal participation in society.

Despite strides, numerous websites remain inaccessible to individuals with disabilities, prompting longstanding calls for the Justice Department to issue specific regulations regarding the ADA’s online application. So far, the agency has only provided guidance, leaving room for legal disputes as more aspects of life migrate online, especially amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Maria Town, president and CEO of the American Association of People with Disabilities, hailed the rule as a long-awaited acknowledgment of the need to combat digital discrimination and inaccessibility to fulfill the ADA’s pledge of societal inclusivity.

Technical Improvements of Necessary Software

According to the Justice Department rule, web and mobile apps must adhere to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) Version 2.1, Level AA, ensuring accessibility for individuals relying on screen readers, speech recognition software, video captioning, visual contrast, and more. These requirements apply even when third parties create or update web content or mobile apps for government entities, with exemptions for certain archived or preexisting information.

Recognizing the necessity of flexibility, the Justice Department allows state and local governments to prioritize ADA digital accessibility efforts, particularly for crucial or frequently accessed information.

The impending publication of the rule in the Federal Register will initiate a 60-day countdown before its enforcement. Following publication, state and local governments will have two or three years, depending on their population, to ensure compliance with the regulations.