The Department of Justice announced that it will take another three years to develop the proposed regulations for making websites accessible to the disabled that will comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The applicability of the ADA to websites has been an issue for companies for several years. As the use of the Internet increased and e-commerce exploded, private lawsuits challenged the lack of access to websites. Only a handful of courts have weighed in on the issue. In an attempt to help guide companies, the DOJ issued an advanced notice of proposed rulemaking (ANPRM) in July 2010.

But last year—despite not having released any guidance—the DOJ brought an enforcement action against Peapod for violating the ADA because its website and mobile app were inaccessible to those with disabilities. The action made clear the agency's position that the federal statute applies not just to websites with a connection to physical locations, but to e-tailers with no brick-and-mortar store.

Now the DOJ has extended the delay in guidance.

In November, the agency released its Statement of Regulatory Priorities that emphasized the importance of Internet accessibility, but pushed the target date for guidance until 2018. "[T]he ADA's expansive nondiscrimination mandate reaches the goods and services provided by public accommodations using Internet web sites," the DOJ wrote. "The inability to access web sites puts individuals at a great disadvantage in today's society, which is driven by a dynamic electronic marketplace and unprecedented access to information."

Currently, the agency is reviewing the public comments received in response to the 2010 ANPRM on questions including what standards should be adopted for website accessibility and whether coverage limitations should be used for certain entities such as small businesses. With the state and local government accessibility rule set to be published in 2016, the DOJ said the business entity rule should wait.

"The Department believes that the Title II web site accessibility rule will facilitate the creation of an important infrastructure for web accessibility that will be very important in the Department's preparation of the Title III web site accessibility NPRM," the agency explained. "Consequently, the Department has decided to extend the time period for development of the proposed Title III web site accessibility rule and include it among its long-term rulemaking priorities. The Department expects to publish the Title III web site accessibility NPRM during fiscal year 2018."

To read the DOJ's Statement of Regulatory Priorities, click here.

Why it matters: Companies waiting for the DOJ guidance to make their websites and mobile apps ADA-compliant would be better served to take action now. Plaintiffs and advocacy groups have not hesitated to file suits over inaccessible sites and the DOJ itself—despite postponing its regulations—brought an enforcement action last year for alleged ADA violations.