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What's Next for US Web Accessibility Laws?

Jun 14, 2024

Over the past several years, the Department of Justice (DOJ) has worked to clarify the digital accessibility requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). 

Earlier this year, the Department issued a new rule establishing technical standards for the ADA’s Title II, which applies to state and local governments as well as public entities such as schools, libraries, and hospitals. Those standards come from the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 Level AA, which is already the basis for many international digital accessibility laws.

And in 2022, the DOJ issued web guidance with basic recommendations for compliance with Title III of the ADA, which applies to private businesses, nonprofits, and other organizations. Unsurprisingly, the Department advises businesses to test their content against WCAG.

That prompts a crucial question: What’s next for web accessibility laws in the U.S. — and how will new regulations impact businesses? While we can’t know the future, we can make some common-sense predictions based on recent trends. 

New Web Accessibility Rules for Title III of the ADA

The DOJ has fairly broad authority to establish standards for compliance (for now, at least — an upcoming Supreme Court case could affect the ability of federal agencies to create regulations).

Currently, the Department must follow a process for proposing new “rules.” In this context, a “rule" is effectively a regulation; the rulemaking process allows for a long period of public comment before the rule takes effect. 

As of this article’s publication, the DOJ has not issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) for Title III of the ADA. However, the Justice Department could conceivably take that step at any time. A Title III NPRM would likely set WCAG 2.1 or WCAG 2.2 as the new standard. 

Of course, this would not meaningfully change Title III’s core requirements. Under current interpretations, organizations must make digital properties (including websites and mobile apps) accessible for users with disabilities. WCAG is already the de facto standard for Title III compliance, and the guidelines are frequently cited in ADA web accessibility lawsuits. 

Eventually, we expect some version of WCAG to become incorporated into Title III. This might occur due to a DOJ regulation or an act of Congress — but in either case, businesses that follow WCAG will be in an excellent position for compliance.

Related: Worried About Web Accessibility Lawsuits? Start Here.

Federal Adoption of New Versions of WCAG

Over time, we expect federal regulations to be updated to account for changes in technology. 

At this time, federal government agencies and their contractors must comply with the Revised Section 508 standards of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. The Rehabilitation Act requires conformance with WCAG 2.0 Level AA (with minor exceptions for certain criteria). 

However, the internet has changed quite a bit since WCAG 2.0 was published in 2008. The World Wide Web Consortium, which publishes WCAG, officially recommends WCAG 2.2, which contains additional criteria covering mobile accessibility, cognitive accessibility, and considerations for assistive technologies.

Put simply, WCAG is an evolving document. Federal regulations — including the Rehabilitation Act and the ADA — should be updated to utilize the latest version of the Guidelines.

Related: The Most Common Web Accessibility Issue of 2024 (and How to Fix It)

More State Laws Addressing Web Accessibility (and Accessibility Lawsuits)

The Justice Department is not the only authority for digital accessibility enforcement. States can set their own requirements for agencies and private businesses — and once again, those requirements usually follow WCAG. 

If Congress is unable to pass bipartisan legislation to establish requirements for Title III, we believe that states will take a more active role. We’ve seen something similar in Canada, where the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) and the Nova Scotia Accessibility Act have gone above and beyond the federal Canadian requirements for digital accessibility. 

In the United States, several states have passed legislation or established policies to enforce digital accessibility. The majority of these laws primarily apply to state agencies — not private businesses.

However, state legislators certainly have a strong incentive to take up the fight for web accessibility. More than 1 in 4 U.S. adults live with a disability, and those people deserve the same level of access as anyone else. 

In 2023, California considered Assembly Bill (AB) 1757, which would have required all California websites to meet WCAG 2.1 Level AA. And in 2021, Colorado required state and local government websites to complete web accessibility plans and start implementing improvements by July 1, 2024.

Building a Long-Term Strategy for Digital Accessibility Compliance

Any changes to federal or state web accessibility laws will probably use WCAG as a framework. WCAG is an achievable standard for organizations of all sizes, and it’s published by the same organization that creates standards for HTML, CSS, and related technologies.

Organizations can take the first steps towards compliance: 

  • Test all content against WCAG. Use a combination of manual and automated tests, prioritizing conformance with the latest version of the guidelines (currently, WCAG 2.2). 
  • Publish an accessibility statement identifying goals, known accessibility issues, and ways to submit feedback. 
  • Involve all stakeholders and measure progress regularly. Treat accessibility as a long-term priority, not a one-time project.

The Bureau of Internet Accessibility and AudioEye offer resources to help brands improve compliance and build more effective content. Learn about AudioEye’s Automated Accessibility platform or get a free, confidential website analysis.

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

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