Accessibility.Blog

2018 Web Accessibility Recap: What Happened This Year?

December 31, 2018 11:15:00 AM EST

2018 is in our rear-view mirror, which means that now is the perfect opportunity to look back on some of the most important events in web accessibility from the past year. From WCAG 2.1 to ADA lawsuits, it's been an eventful one.

WCAG 2.1

WCAG 2.1 is the most significant evolution in the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines since the release of WCAG 2.0 in December 2008. Because WCAG is the most commonly used set of web accessibility standards, changes to the WCAG recommendations affect thousands of websites for businesses, government institutions, and non-profit organizations.

Published in June 2018, the new WCAG 2.1 standards include several criteria for improving web accessibility on mobile devices, as well as for people with low vision and cognitive disabilities. The changes are welcome to the accessibility community, as the massive growth in use of smartphones and tablets, for example, needed to be accounted for more formally.

What's especially good is that WCAG 2.1 is backwards-compatible with WCAG 2.0 — there are no changes to the existing recommendations from 2.0. Your organization can still remain compliant with WCAG 2.0 while you work to implement the new guidelines from 2.1.

ADA Lawsuits

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, the websites of many businesses can be considered “places of public accommodation,” despite the fact that they have no physical presence. In other words, these websites fall squarely under the provision of Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act. They must be just as accessible to people with disabilities as a physical business.

The DOJ’s stance has contributed to thousands of ADA lawsuits in recent years against U.S. organizations’ websites, where plaintiffs argue that the site is insufficiently accessible. 2018 was no exception to this trend. According to ClassAction.org, there were roughly three ADA website lawsuits filed per day in the first months of 2018.

Most of the ADA website lawsuits allege that the site is insufficiently accessible to people with visual disabilities, although some include plaintiffs with hearing disabilities. The defendants in these cases span a wide range of industries, from restaurants and e-commerce stores to clothing and telecommunications. What’s more, the lawsuits target both small businesses and multinational corporations such as Nike and Amazon.

Worried that your website may be vulnerable to an ADA lawsuit? The Bureau of Internet Accessibility provides a free automated scan of your website, testing it against WCAG recommendations.

Section 508 Updates

In addition to the ADA, you’ll often hear Section 508 associated with web accessibility. The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 requires equal access to federally-funded programs and activities. Section 508 of the law deals with digital access to those resources by both federal employees and the public — and it was recently updated.

As of January 2018, federal agencies and contractors must meet revised Section 508 standards, which were updated to catch up to evolving digital capabilities. The revisions include several advancements, notably: the recognition of WCAG 2.0 as the industry standard in accessibility and the requirement that all public-facing, and some non-public facing, official agency business content be accessible.

Department of Education Complaints Process

The U.S. Department of Education (DOE) Office of Civil Rights (OCR) is charged with enforcing the ADA in order to provide all students equal access to education. In November 2018, the DOE announced new changes to the discrimination complaints process.

First, the DOE will no longer be able to dismiss complaints out of hand because they pose an “unreasonable burden.” In addition, complainants will be able to appeal cases where the DOE found that there was insufficient evidence. The DOE’s announcement opens the door to a greater number of discrimination complaints filed on the basis of disability and accessibility.

New Disability Statistics

Finally, we’ll close out the year with a reflection on just how important it is for your website to be accessible. According to a 2018 report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1 in 4 adults in the U.S. had a disability in 2016.

This figure comes after the U.S. Census Bureau’s estimate that 19 percent of the U.S. population had a disability in 2010. What’s more, this percentage is only expected to grow in the future as the U.S. population ages. The Census Bureau projects that in 2030, people 65 and older will outnumber children for the first time in U.S. history.

Final Thoughts

A lot happened in 2018 in the world of web accessibility, and we predict that 2019 will follow suit. Bureau of Internet Accessibility readers can always find the latest news and updates in web accessibility by following the BoIA blog.

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