In the United States, businesses have a legal responsibility to provide accessible digital content. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) establishes penalties for private entities that discriminate against people with disabilities. Court decisions have established websites and mobile apps as “places of public accommodation,” and accessibility barriers need to be addressed quickly to ensure compliance with the ADA.
However, most countries have their own digital accessibility laws that may not align with the ADA. While most international standards are based on the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), the specific requirements for web accessibility — and the penalties for noncompliance — vary considerably.
In this article, we’ll examine Japan’s digital accessibility requirements for government agencies and private businesses. However, if you’re concerned about legal compliance, we recommend auditing your content for conformance with the latest WCAG standards.
WCAG provides the best framework for offering a better experience for users with disabilities — and sites that follow the guidelines are well positioned to comply with all international regulations.
Japan’s digital accessibility standards use WCAG as a framework
Japan’s most specific web accessibility regulation is the Japanese Industrial Standards (JIS) X 8341-3, which provide guidance for both public- and private-sector organizations. In 2010, JIS X8341-3 was revised to require compliance with the WCAG.
WCAG standards are organized into three levels of conformance: Level A (least strict), Level AA, and Level AAA (most strict). Content that conforms with Level AA is considered reasonably accessible for most people with disabilities. Japan’s JIS X8341-3 includes the same principles and success criteria as WCAG 2.0 Level AA.
JIS guidelines are updated every five years, and JIS X8341-3 may be updated to adopt the new success criteria in WCAG 2.2. However, the standards don’t set strict requirements for every business: While private entities are strongly encouraged to follow the established standards, JIS X8341-3 has limited enforcement mechanisms.
In Japan, businesses are prohibited from discriminating against people with disabilities
Until 2013, Japan did not have a disability rights law equivalent to the ADA. That year, Japan’s Diet passed the Elimination of Discrimination against Persons with Disabilities Act, which prohibits disability-based discrimination. The policy became law in 2014.
Here’s an overview of the Elimination of Discrimination Against Persons with Disabilities Act:
- The law requires government agencies to make reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities. This includes offering accessible websites that meet JIS X8341-3.
- However, while private-sector organizations are encouraged to take action, they do not need to meet specific technical standards.
- If private businesses don’t report their accessibility practices to authorities—or make false claims—they may face fines of up to ¥200,000 (roughly $1,700 USD).
Disability rights advocates have criticized the act for leaving terms like “reasonable accommodation" up for interpretation. Still, many Japanese businesses have taken the initiative to offer accessible content. According to Accessibility World Map, which grades web accessibility on a country-by-country basis, Japanese websites are more accessible on average than most European countries' websites.
For businesses that operate in Japan, web accessibility has major benefits
Over the next few years, Japan may update its digital accessibility laws or increase enforcement. However, businesses that operate within the country have strong incentives to embrace accessibility — regardless of their legal obligations.
When brands maintain accessible online content, they can reach a much wider audience. That’s particularly true in Japan: About 9.6 million people in Japan live with disabilities (more than 7% of the total population). As of September 2021, the country had an estimated 36.4 million people aged 65 or older, and the number is expected to increase until at least 2040. Older individuals are more likely to have disabilities and conditions that affect their internet usage.
And since digital accessibility improves the experience of all users — not just those with disabilities that affect their browsing behavior — following WCAG can improve conversions and client retention rates. The business case for accessible websites is extremely strong, and while compliance is important, accessibility offers an excellent return on investment.