On March 18, 2022, the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) issued new Guidance on Web Accessibility and the ADA (the “Guidance”). The Guidance provides considerations for state and local governments, schools, and businesses to keep in mind when ensuring that their websites comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”). Indeed, the DOJ has consistently taken the position that the ADA’s requirements apply to
- all the services, programs and activities of state and local governments, including those offered online, and
- all the goods services, privileges, or activities offered by public accommodations, including those offered online.
As the DOJ notes in the Guidance, if web content is inaccessible, people with disabilities are denied equal access to information. Given the “multitude of services” that have moved online, ensuring web accessibility is a priority for the DOJ. To ensure compliance, state and local governments, schools and businesses should ensure that their websites do not create unnecessary barriers that make it difficult or impossible for a person with a disability to access information.
Examples of Barriers to Website Accessibilities:
The Guidance identifies various website accessibility barriers that may keep individuals with disabilities from accessing information made available to the public online:
- Poor color contrast – Individuals with limited vision or color blindness may have difficulty reading text if there is insufficient contrast between the background and the text.
- Using color alone to give information – When information is conveyed using only color cues, individuals who are color-blind may not be able to access the information because they cannot differentiate certain colors. Screen readers do not tell the user the color of the text on the screen; and therefore individuals using screen readers cannot know that color is meant to convey information.
- Lack of text alternatives on images – Without text alternatives, individuals who are blind will not be able to access the content and purpose of website images, including pictures, charts, and illustrations.
- Lack of video captions – Without captions, an individual with a hearing disability may be prevented from understanding the information being communicated in the video.
- Inaccessible online forms – Without the proper tools, it is difficult for a person with a disability to understand, complete and submit online forms accurately. Online forms should include labels that screen readers can convey to a user with a disability; clear instructions; and an error indicator.
- Mouse-only navigation – Individuals with disabilities who cannot use a mouse may need keyboard navigation in order to access web content.
How To Ensure Web Content is Accessible to Individuals with Disabilities
The DOJ has not issued specific regulations or detailed standards, and it has noted that there is some flexibility in how state and local governments, schools and businesses comply with the general prohibition against nondiscrimination and effective communication. However, the Guidance stresses the importance of ensuring that individuals with disabilities have access to online content. Additionally, the Guidance cites helpful technical resources, the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) and the Section 508 Standards, which are used by the federal government for its own websites.
While state and local governments, schools and businesses have flexibility in how they determine which tools to put in place, they need to ensure that their websites comply with the ADA and their web content is accessible to individuals with disabilities.