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Understanding the DOJ’s New Web Accessibility Rules for State and Local Governments

May 07, 2024

By Digital Accessibility Manager, Amy Cole

The digital world is an integral part of our daily lives, providing access to essential services, information, and opportunities. In recognition of this widespread reliance on digital platforms, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has handed down a new and crucial accessibility rule under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This ruling aims to ensure that individuals with disabilities have equal access to web content and mobile applications, thus promoting inclusivity and fairness in the digital sphere.

Key Highlights of the DOJ's Recent Announcement

Updated Standards: The new rule stipulates that state and local governments must follow the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 AA. This update reflects the evolving web accessibility landscape and gives federal backing to ensure states follow digital accessibility standards. It’s worth noting that while WCAG 2.2 was released in October 2023, there is no legal requirement to use it. Section 508 still abides by the older WCAG 2.0 AA—the lowest level of conformance for legal compliance—and recommends that federal agencies begin adhering to WCAG 2.1. In this way, the standards for state and local governments are actually higher than that of federal agencies.

Expanded Scope: The rule applies to both web content and mobile applications, the first time since the ADA was enacted in 1990. This expansion broadens the reach of accessibility requirements, ensuring that various digital platforms prioritize inclusivity.

Contractual Obligations: State and local governments that engage other entities to provide public services must ensure that their contractors also adhere to Title II of the ADA. This extends the responsibility for accessibility compliance to third-party service providers, fostering a comprehensive approach to accessibility.

Transitional Considerations: Recognizing the challenges faced by small public entities in implementing the new requirements, the DOJ has staggered the compliance dates based on the total population served. This phased approach acknowledges the resource limitations that smaller entities may encounter, allowing for a smoother transition towards full compliance.

Practical Exceptions: Some exceptions exist for old documents or archived information, as well as for public postings on government message boards and old social media content. These exceptions balance the need for accessibility with practical considerations related to legacy content.

Deadline for Compliance: All state and local government entities must achieve compliance within two years if they serve a population of over 50,000 people, and within three years if they serve fewer than 50,000 people. This timeline provides a clear roadmap for entities to align with the new accessibility standards.

Cost-Benefit Analysis: The DOJ emphasizes that the benefits of making content accessible outweigh the costs involved. This perspective underscores the value of inclusivity and accessibility in the digital realm, reaffirming the importance of prioritizing equal access for all individuals.

Mandatory Integration: The DOJ's intervention signals a shift from voluntary integration of accessibility to a mandatory requirement. This move acknowledges that voluntary efforts have not yielded adequate results and underscores the necessity of regulatory involvement to drive meaningful change.

The scope of this new rule encompasses various entities, including state and local government offices, public schools and universities, police departments, healthcare facilities, public transit agencies, and more. By extending accessibility requirements to a wide array of public services, the DOJ's ruling sets a comprehensive standard for ensuring equal access to digital resources.

In a digital landscape where access to information and services is increasingly reliant on web platforms, prioritizing accessibility is not just a regulatory obligation—it's a fundamental step towards fostering inclusivity and equal opportunity for all individuals. The DOJ's new ADA compliance rule serves as a vital catalyst for advancing digital accessibility, signaling a commitment to creating a more inclusive and equitable digital environment for everyone.

As this rule takes effect, it becomes imperative for state and local governments, as well as their partners and service providers, to proactively address accessibility requirements and take steps to ensure comprehensive compliance. By embracing this mandate, stakeholders can contribute to a digital ecosystem that is accessible, fair, and empowering for individuals of all abilities.

To learn more about the author and Bixal’s commitment to accessibility, check out the blog post “Bixal's Commitment to Advancing Accessibility in the Federal Government: A Q&A with Digital Accessibility Manager, Amy Cole.”