May 13, 2015—At the National ADA Symposium in Atlanta yesterday, senior representatives of the Department of Justice (DOJ) acknowledged that the DOJ is committed to issuing regulations for website accessibility. Its focus on cyber accessibility will include accessibility for touch screens, point-of-sale technologies, and streaming video services. An earlier statement by the DOJ indicated a target date of June 2015 for publishing the website accessibility regulations, but yesterday, the DOJ representatives did not commit to a timeline.
Under Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), businesses that are open to the public (i.e., “public accommodations”) must comply with detailed accessibility standards. These standards control everything from the slope of parking spots to the height of bathroom mirrors. Soon these standards will be expanded to include requirements for website accessibility.
The website accessibility standards at the center of this development are the WCAG 2.0 Level AA Guidelines (WCAG 2.0 AA), a publication of the World Wide Web Consortium. The federal government has signaled its commitment to using the WCAG 2.0 AA as the primary standards for public accommodations in a two ways.
First, the Department of Justice (DOJ) has already enforced the WCAG 2.0 AA against several public accommodations in several publicized settlements. While these settlements are specific to the public accommodations involved in these disputes, they are example setting and point to the government’s increasing attention on issues of cyber accessibility.
Second, the U.S. Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board (Access Board) has steadily increased its efforts to adopt the WCAG 2.0 AA as the standard for government websites. On February 18, 2015, the Access Board issued its proposed rule to do just that. A 90-day public comment period will follow before any official adoption will take place.
What this means to businesses
The new regulations, which are expected to incorporate WCAG 2.0 AA principles, could provide the basis for discrimination lawsuits against public accommodations brought by private plaintiffs for website design that is alleged to be inaccessible. Many businesses open to the public have seen the “coding on the wall” and have been proactively performing analyses of their websites in anticipation of the new standards. Addressing website-accessibility regulations before the doors of legal liability are opened widely is a prudent move.