In India, public and private organizations have a legal responsibility to provide accessible content for people with disabilities. However, the nation’s laws do not identify a universal set of standards to define “accessible content.”
Unfortunately, this is a common issue with accessibility regulations. For instance, in the United States, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) applies to websites and requires reasonable accommodations, but because it lacks technical standards, organizations often encounter issues when attempting to prove compliance.
Fortunately, there’s a consensus standard for digital accessibility. Developed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) provide clear technical guidance for building content that works for all users.
WCAG is frequently cited in court cases as a demonstration of “reasonable accommodations" for people with disabilities, and by following the voluntary WCAG standards, your organization can maintain compliance with dozens of international accessibility laws and industry-specific regulations.
Below, we’ll review India’s digital accessibility laws and explain how WCAG conformance can help your organization fulfill its responsibilities (and reach a much wider audience).
India’s 2016 Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act
In 2016, the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act (commonly abbreviated as the RPWD Act or RPD Act) passed in parliament. The law replaced earlier legislation and provides clearer guidance for digital accessibility.
Private organizations had two years to comply with the RPWD Act; as of June 15, 2019, service providers must provide digital resources that reasonably accommodate people with disabilities.
Here’s how the RPWD Act defines “reasonable accommodations:”
"[...] necessary and appropriate modification and adjustments, without imposing a disproportionate or undue burden in a particular case, to ensure to persons with disabilities the enjoyment or exercise of rights equally with others.”
Unlike many international digital accessibility laws, the RPWD Act does not specifically cite WCAG. However, the law’s enforcement mechanisms are notable: Employees of organizations may be held individually liable for offenses. Companies found guilty of offenses must pay fines ranging from 10,000 rupees to 500,000 rupees (approximately $132 to $6,600 USD).
Additionally, an individual who intentionally “insults or intimidates" a person with a disability may be punished with imprisonment between six months and five years. To date, enforcement of this provision is rare, and some legal experts have criticized the RPWD Act’s severe penalties as overregulation.
Nevertheless, any organization operating in India has a responsibility to follow the RPWD Act, and WCAG provides an effective framework for maintaining compliance.
2009 Guidelines for Indian Government Websites
In addition to the RPWD Act, public entities in India must follow the 2009 Guidelines for Indian Government Websites (PDF), which include considerations for accessibility along with guidance intended to standardize the on-page experience across different government websites.
Many of WCAG criteria closely correlate with these standards, and sites that conform with WCAG Level AA can meet the document’s accessibility requirements. However, because the Guidelines for Indian Government Websites contain specific requirements for page design, CSS implementation, and information architecture, WCAG conformance does not ensure full compliance.
WCAG Conformance and Indian Digital Accessibility Laws
While conformance with WCAG is voluntary in India, organizations face strict penalties for RPWD Act violations. As the most frequently cited standard for digital accessibility, WCAG provides a path to ensuring compliance and demonstrating “reasonable accommodations" for persons with disabilities.
WCAG success criteria are organized into three levels: Level A (least strict), Level AA, and Level AAA (most strict). Sites that fulfill all Level A and Level AA success criteria are generally considered reasonably accessible for most users.
As we’ve discussed in other articles, compliance is an important consideration for every organization — but compliance isn’t the only reason to prioritize accessibility. By auditing your digital content for WCAG 2.2 Level AA conformance, your organization can enjoy the full benefits of accessible design, which include:
- Improved search engine optimization (SEO)
- Higher user retention rates
- Better brand reputation
- Faster development times and lower long-term website maintenance costs
To learn more, read: The Business Case for an Accessible Website.
If you’re not sure whether your content conforms with WCAG, get started by downloading the Bureau of Internet Accessibility’s free Definitive Website Accessibility Checklist or our Definitive Mobile Accessibility Checklist.