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ADA and Website Accessibility Compliance: What's New in 2018

Sep 19, 2018

The guiding principle of digital accessibility is providing equal access to all web users, including those with a disability. So, how do you know if you’re meeting that goal and whether you are legally required to meet that goal? As 2018 begins to wind down, it’s an opportunity to review and reflect on the current state of affairs in digital accessibility, this year’s changes, and what they mean for your organization.

ADA and Web Accessibility Compliance

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law in 1990 to provide civil rights protection to people with disabilities, making discrimination on the basis of disability illegal. The ADA originally focused on physical accessibility and accommodations, and since it predates the modern web and communication technologies, it doesn’t specifically mention websites. The law has sat stagnant since its inception, failing to keep up with changing times and technologies. That may finally be changing.

In July of this year, 19 Attorneys General sent a letter to United States Attorney General Jeff Sessions asking the Department of Justice to formalize web accessibility standards under the ADA. This is a step in the right direction to make the web more accessible for everyone and to help businesses understand the requirements for providing that accessibility and complying with the law.

Accessibility Lawsuits Indicate Websites are Places of Public Accommodation

The ADA prohibits discrimination by government entities and in places of public accommodation. So, does the ADA apply to websites? The rise in accessibility lawsuits and plaintiff victories point increasingly to “yes.”

June and July of this year each saw more than 150 digital accessibility lawsuits filed.

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.

WCAG 2.1 Enhances WCAG 2.0

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, which are the typically-accepted standards in digital accessibility, also evolved in 2018.

WCAG 2.0 was published in 2008 and the technology advancements in those 10 years have been incredible. This means that as developers and content producers continue to find new and compelling ways to deliver information on a growing myriad of devices and screen sizes, the 2008 guidelines have become more difficult to fully understand and apply today.

Enter WCAG 2.1. Published in June 2018, WCAG 2.1 adds to and does not replace WCAG 2.0. Because of this, adhering to WCAG 2.1 means you automatically also adhere to WCAG 2.0, as the existing guidelines and checkpoints remained unchanged.

1 in 4 adults in US has disability

A new report from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that 25% of U.S. adults (61 million people), and 40% age 65 or older, have a disability. Previous figures had placed that number closer to 1-in-5, or 20%.

If anything highlights the need to create accessible experiences, this should be it. Equal access is possible and expected — and it can be achieved when content is developed in a way that allows people with disabilities, including those who use assistive technologies like screen readers, to fully operate it.

Achieving and maintaining compliance

In 2018 and beyond, the need for an accessible web presence is clear. The best way to achieve compliance is to combine manual and automated testing, like BoIA’s comprehensive four-point hybrid testing methodology. The best way to maintain compliance is to build self-sufficiency and to keep a relationship with the accessibility experts.

Start with a free and confidential website scan on our powerful a11y® platform. This will give you a great starting point to understand the general accessibility condition of your website. And when you’re ready, we can talk about all our options to help you reach your digital accessibility goals.

Use our free Website Accessibility Checker to scan your site for ADA and WCAG compliance.

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