The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has once again pushed back the anticipated issue date for proposed regulations governing accessibility of online content for places of public accommodation governed by Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act. According to the recently released Spring 2015 Unified Agenda, the proposed regulations, which had last been slated for release this month following a series of previous delays, have now been postponed for almost another full year to April 2016.
This continued delay is undoubtedly frustrating for public accommodations (which include, but are not limited to, retail stores, restaurants, entertainment and sports venues, hotels, medical facilities, and more), as almost every such entity maintains a web presence that is likely to be impacted by the ultimately adopted regulations. Adding to the concern is the fact that private plaintiffs, advocacy groups, and government agencies (including the DOJ itself) continue to file lawsuits and complaints and conduct investigations into issues of web accessibility despite the current lack of formal guidance.
So what is a public accommodation to do while the wait continues? Though some entities are biding their time until more definitive word on what the regulations will ultimately require is available, that approach presents a risk given the continued push for online accessibility by individuals and government agencies alike. While the final regulations will ultimately set the official standard for web accessibility, it is widely assumed, based both on the DOJ’s July 2010 Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on the subject as well as more recent DOJ settlement agreements, that the regulations will adopt, to some extent, the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (“WCAG”) set forth by the World Wide Web Consortium, an international web development organization. The WCAG guidelines are currently the dominant industry standard for website accessibility and set forth a detailed framework of technical methods to satisfy a number of accessibility criteria for individuals with visual, aural, and other types of disabilities.
Given the uncertain landscape, public accommodations are advised to consider conducting a technical accessibility review of their current web content. That review will help the entity to evaluate its present level of compliance with the WCAG guidelines, determine the efforts that may be needed to achieve greater compliance, and ultimately make more educated decisions on what next steps may be most appropriate at this time.