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DOJ (Finally) Releases Website ADA Accessibility Guidance – But Still No Clear Rules

Over half a decade after the industry developed its own standards in light of a lack of meaningful guidance from regulators, the Department of Justice recently issued a guidance document on compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) for website accessibility. While the DOJ still has not issued an enforceable regulation with explicit standards for website accessibility, the DOJ’s new guidance reaffirms the role of compliance with “WCAG” standards and signals an increased focus on the importance of making the internet more accessible.
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What Does the Guidance Suggest About ADA Applicability to Websites?

The guidance illustrates the DOJ’s stance that the ADA’s requirements apply to all online services, programs, and activities of businesses that are open to the public, as well as to state and local governments. The guidance acknowledges that website accessibility can be achieved by abiding by the industry-developed Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1. The WCAG asserts that web content should be “perceivable, operational, understandable, and robust” for all people. Specifically, users should be able to perceive the information presented through sight, hearing, or touch; all of the navigable components of the website should work and include full interaction capabilities for all people; the information should be easily understood; the content must be capable of reliable interpretation by most common assistive technologies.

According to the DOJ, website accessibility barriers include:

  1. Color cues alone to sort information: When websites sort information solely by color cues, people who are colorblind or rely on screen readers are not able to access the information in the same way others are.
  2. Images without text alternatives: People who are visually impaired are not able to understand the content and purpose of images when no text alternative is provided.
  3. Videos without captions: People with hearing disabilities may not be able to understand the information presented in a video if the video does not have captions.

How Does the Guidance Suggest Websites Comply with the ADA? 

The DOJ encourages applicable companies that operate websites to confirm accessibility via automated accessibility systems as well as manual checks and to include functions for the public to report accessibility issues. The guidance provides resources such as a comprehensive accessibility guide, a link to WCAG, and websites with tools and training on implementing website accessibility requirements.

The guidance recommends the following controls to ensure web accessibility:

  1. Color contrast
  2. Text cues
  3. Text alternatives
  4. Video captions
  5. Labels, keyboard access, and clear instructions in form fields
  6. Headings

Conclusion

Companies should take the DOJ’s guidance as an opportunity to assess whether their websites are accessible. Doing so in consultation with legal counsel may also mitigate the risks of enforcement actions, with private plaintiffs routinely pursuing class action claims under the ADA and state laws like the California Consumer Privacy Act.

The full guidance may be found here.   

ArentFox Schiff regularly advises clients on website privacy, terms of use, accessibility, and other legal considerations. If you have any questions, please contact Eva Pulliam or the ArentFox Schiff attorney with whom you normally work.

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