Justice Department Weighs In On Web Accessibility
For the first time in nearly two decades, federal officials are issuing guidance on how the Americans with Disabilities Act applies online.
The U.S. Department of Justice released a document late last week spelling out what websites need to do to be accessible as required by law.
More than 30 years after the ADA took effect, many websites remain unusable for people with disabilities even as they have become integral to nearly every facet of day-to-day life.
Advertisement - Continue Reading Below
“We have heard the calls from the public on the need for more guidance on web accessibility, particularly as our economy and society become increasingly digitized,” said Kristen Clarke, assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “This guidance will assist the public in understanding how to ensure that websites are accessible to people with disabilities. People with disabilities deserve to have an equal opportunity to access the services, goods and programs provided by government and businesses, including when offered or communicated through websites.”
The guidance covers websites for state and local governments as well as businesses that are open to the public. It includes information about when the ADA requires content to be accessible and tips for doing so, all written in plain language so that it is useful to people without a legal or technical background, the Justice Department said.
According to the document, ADA requirements extend to “all the services, programs or activities of state and local governments” and “all the goods, services, privileges or activities offered” by banks, hotels, hospitals, restaurants, theaters and other businesses open to the public, including those offered on the web.
Since there are not currently any federal regulations detailing exactly what entities must do to make their websites accessible, the guidance indicates that business owners have flexibility to determine how they will make their online content accessible so long as it meets the ADA requirement of nondiscrimination and effective communication.
The new information is being released as the Justice Department has faced increasing pressure to put out regulations on online accessibility. In February, 181 disability organizations wrote to the agency about the “urgent need” for regulations on web accessibility citing the ways that people with disabilities have been harmed in employment, education, health care and more. The letter indicated that there have been differing court opinions on the issue and there is a desire for clear standards from business groups.
Curt Decker, executive director of the National Disability Rights Network, said that the new guidance is “a good first step” but it is not enough.
“Guidance is not enforceable,” Decker said. “We need regulations that can be enforced by the Department of Justice.”