The Growing Impact and Importance of Web Accessibility

State and federal laws pertaining to web accessibility have been applied in varying ways and degrees to for-profit business, state and federal government agencies in recent years. Most of the laws on the books were created prior to the Internet and its impact as an integral component of education, employment, and e-commerce. No longer do we rely solely on the traditional “brick and mortar” businesses for essential goods and services. Web accessibility guidelines and regulations are beginning to more clearly reflect this.

For many people, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) represents the more physical requirements in public places such as wheelchair ramps and handrails. What is not as visible and clear for many individuals is how the ADA is applied to accessible information and communication technology for individuals with disabilities.

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has affirmed the application of Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act to websites in a technical assistance publication titled Accessibility of State and Local Government Websites to People with Disabilities, and in numerous settlement agreements with State and local governments. The DOJ has also issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for the accessibility of web information.

Recent legal cases involving for-profit businesses have applied Title III of the ADA to websites in the private sector. As one example, in November of 2014 Department of Justice reached a settlement with the owner of an online grocery retailer that required the company to comply with WCAG 2.0 Level AA standards. For more details related to this case, visit: The Next Frontier in ADA Litigation: Website and App Access for the Disabled

WCAG, or Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, represents a robust, internationally developed set of web accessibility guidelines. For an overview of WCAG, visit: Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) Overview. Section 508 is a federal law mandating that all electronic and information technology developed, procured, maintained, or used by the federal government be accessible to people with disabilities. For an extensive list of web and content accessibility guidelines for Section 508, visit: Section 508 Checklist

Section 508 is in the process of being updated, currently referred to as Section 508 Refresh. The goal of Refresh is to closely harmonize Section 508 standards with WCAG 2.0 Level AA guidelines, thereby establishing a more uniform industry standard that can be applied to web accessibility. State laws and policies pertaining to electronic and information technology vary from state to state. More than a dozen states have now developed their own laws and policies pertaining to electronic and information technology: State Legislation on Electronic and Information Technology

With the number of legal cases on the rise requiring for-profit businesses to provide accessible web sites, with the tightening of federal regulations, and the growing number of state governments developing their own laws and policies pertaining to electronic and information technology, Section 508 Refresh will be a welcome resource for both the private and public sector to ensure that future web accessibility is not only a consideration, but a clear and achievable goal. AccessGA will continue to keep you informed on the state of Section 508 Refresh and the time frame for its implementation.

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