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Justice Department’s Final Rule for Title II ADA Compliance

Apr 25, 2024

The Department of Justice (DOJ) has finally established technical requirements for website compliance with the Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). 

Unsurprisingly, those rules are familiar to people in the accessibility space: They’re the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), the international standards used by various other non-discrimination laws.

Specifically, the DOJ will require conformance with WCAG 2.1 Level AA. WCAG is organized into three levels of conformance, and websites that conform with all Level AA requirements are considered generally accessible for most people with disabilities. 

“This final rule marks the Justice Department’s latest effort to ensure that no person is denied access to government services, programs, or activities because of a disability,” said Attorney General Merrick B. Garland in a press release. “By issuing clear and consistent accessibility standards for state and local governments’ digital content, this rule advances the ADA’s promise of equal participation in society for people with disabilities.

Below, we’ll address some common questions about the DOJ’s final rule for Title II ADA compliance. To start building a long-term, self-sustainable strategy for digital compliance, send us a message.

What is a Justice Department "final rule", and why is it important?

Laws enacted by Congress can give federal agencies broad authority to issue regulations. Those regulations must go through a rulemaking process that solicits comments from the general public. 

In August 2022, the DOJ published a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) indicating its intention to create technical standards for Title II of the ADA. After collecting public feedback, the DOJ moved ahead with its “final rule,” which now takes effect.

There’s no difference between a final rule and a regulation — although a current Supreme Court case addressing regulatory authority may impact the DOJ’s ability to establish technical standards. For now, though, WCAG 2.1 Level AA is a requirement under Title II. 

Will the DOJ issue technical rules for ADA Title III compliance?

Title II of the ADA only applies to state and local governments and commuter authorities (such as Amtrak). Title III applies to businesses, non-profits, and other places of public accommodation.

The DOJ hasn’t issued an NPRM for Title III, so new Title III standards aren’t on their way. However, by establishing strict requirements for Title II, the DOJ may have established a precedent — and since WCAG is regularly referenced in Title III lawsuits, businesses should make sure that their websites comply with Title II standards at minimum. 

Related: What Do the Justice Department's New ADA Standards Mean for Private Businesses?

What does the new final rule require for Title II web compliance?

The new rule requires conformance with WCAG 2.1 Level AA. The WCAG document includes pass-or-fail statements called “success criteria,” which can be used to test content for common accessibility barriers.

That includes common website issues such as: 

  • Missing alternative text (also called alt text) for images and other non-text content, which impacts people who use screen readers and other assistive technologies.
  • Missing captions for videos, which impacts people with hearing disabilities.
  • Low-contrast text, which can be unreadable for people with color vision deficiencies. 
  • Missing form field labels, which may prevent people from using assistive technology to operate a website. 
  • Content that flashes more than three times a second, which may trigger seizures and other physical symptoms for people with photosensitivity disorders.

In total, WCAG 2.1 contains 78 success criteria (including Level AAA criteria). The requirements can be applied to any type of digital content — not just websites. Under the new final rule, apps, PDFs, and other online content must also comply with WCAG 2.1.

Related: PDFs Remain a Challenge for Section 508 Compliance

How can state agencies build a strategy for Title II compliance?

The DOJ’s new final rule clarifies the requirements for Title II compliance, but those requirements aren’t new — WCAG has been the standard for digital compliance for decades.

That’s good news for state agencies: There’s an established process for bringing your website (and other forms of content) into compliance. 

That process starts with a comprehensive accessibility audit using both automated and manual tests. The Bureau of Internet Accessibility provides a free graded report utilizing the latest version of WCAG.

Get started with our free automated analysis or download our free eBook: Essential Guide to ADA Accessibility Compliance for Websites.

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

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