Today 1 in 4 Americans hit virtual roadblocks accessing web content simply because their capabilities, adaptive strategies or their assistive technologies are not considered during the design of digital experiences such as websites.
How many website users in the U.S. could potentially be affected? There are 307 million internet users and 276.8 million mobile internet users in the U.S. accessing the World Wide Web (WWW). The Web has become an indispensable software platform for daily living. For many of these internet users, there’s an unrealized expectation all websites are accessible to everyone to interact with website content, engage with people online, and make life possible when they cannot leave their homes.
We recently learned the Department of Justice (DOJ) wants to ensure website access for persons with disabilities (PWD). And it wants all businesses open to the public to prioritize website accessibility for PWD.
Title III – Businesses Open to the Public
Disability advocacy groups have urged the DOJ to establish regulations to ensure website accessibility for public business entities (e.g., retail stores, banks, hotels, medical facilities, food, and drink establishments and so on). Instead of regulations, the Civil Division of the DOJ gave long-awaited guidance on website accessibility for businesses open to the public under Title III of the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act, 1990) on March 18, 2022:
“The Department of Justice published guidance today on website accessibility and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). It explains how state and local governments (entities covered by ADA Title II) and businesses open to the public (ADA Title III) can make sure their websites are accessible to people with disabilities in line with the ADA’s requirements.”
Enforcement by the DOJ
This announcement put website accessibility back on the Civil Rights Division’s enforcement agenda to give PWD equal access. And speaking of equal access, the DOJ outlined the responsibility of businesses to avoid discrimination:
“Title III prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities by businesses open to the public also referred to as ‘public accommodations’ under the Americans with Disability Act (ADA). The ADA requires that businesses open to the public provide full and equal enjoyment of their goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations to people with disabilities.”
Department of Justice Point of View
From the DOJ’s point of view, the ADA was intended to “keep pace with rapidly changing technology of our times.” Starting in 1996, the DOJ held the position that websites should comply with the ADA, even when regulations were not in place.
“The Department of Justice does not have a regulation setting out detailed standards, but the Department’s longstanding interpretation of the general non-discrimination and effective communication provisions apply to web accessibility.”
Kristen Clarke, Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, stated “We heard the calls from the public on the need for more guidance on website accessibility.” The guidance they released seems to accomplish two objectives:
- It intends to reinforce the DOJ’s current stance with businesses to make public websites accessible.
- It signals their intention to pursue legal action when accessibility cases are brought to their attention.
The DOJ’s Technical Standards for Website Accessibility
Their website accessibility guidance comprises six categories. Their guidance is written in plain language to make it easy to follow “by people without a legal or technical background.”
To help businesses achieve website accessibility, the DOJ references existing technical standards the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 (WCAG). To reinforce a commitment to ensuring websites are accessible, the DOJ shared Title III cases including a settlement with the grocery delivery service Peapod. In this case, Peapod was required to make a series of website adjustments. One, ensuring their website and mobile applications meet WCAG 2.0 AA. Two, asking web users for feedback about their user experience. And three, conducting end-user and automated testing.
Next Steps for Businesses
While it’s clear the DOJ wants businesses to make sure their websites are accessible, it allows “flexibility” in how businesses create them. The flexibility to apply WCAG 2.0 has been challenging in the past. With the DOJ’s recent update, businesses have clearer guidance to “comply with the ADA’s requirements (i.e., nondiscrimination and effective communication).”
So, What Comes Next?
For those businesses looking to obtain more insights on website accessibility, Perficient has created a set of information to help. You can download our guide Digitally Accessible Experiences: Why it Matters and How to Create Them.