Informational

Why the DOJ Released Guidance on Web Accessibility

In March 2022, the Department of Justice (DOJ) confirmed the intention of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by issuing formal guidance regarding web accessibility. The message is now unified to strengthen the foundation of the ADA.

But why was this guidance necessary?

Believe it or not, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 is the broadest piece of equality legislation ever passed to exclusively address the rights of people with disabilities. The ADA language is simple; all people must have equal access to goods, services, information, and communication. It is a foundational law created to grow and change with the times. 

Unfortunately, some people don’t see it that way.

ADA: The Foundation for Equal Access

But ADA is only the beginning. It is not a solution. Rather, it is an essential foundation on which solutions will be constructed.

Justin Dart Jr., 1990

Even though the intention of the ADA is the foundation for equality, its communication barrier scope has faced legal challenges and debate from many local, state, public, and private organizations. Businesses and government agencies have often outright ignored the law, especially when it involves digital accessibility. 

Some ignore the law because digital compliance gets confusing. Other times it’s because “the law lacks specifics regarding digital accessibility.” 

But, some quick research proves the intention of the ADA, and one could easily conclude that plea of ignorance is an excuse, not a fact. 

Enforcing the ADA

The DOJ is responsible for enforcing the ADA and other areas of civil rights legislation. They investigate individuals’ complaints and take action on lawsuits with rulings. But, they do not audit organizations to ensure ADA adherence. So, many organizations are willing to take a chance regarding ADA compliance, especially digital compliance. 

They also explain and guide the laws. But the Department of Justice and the White House were concerned that creating specifics for adherence to the ADA would be an over-reach of government.

However, dating back to 2003, the Department of Justice has been clear that providing digital access is included in the language of the ADA. In fact, a paper trail is active on the DOJ’s website under ADA Enforcement. Yet, because the ADA came before the reliance on digital platforms, there is a failed argument that the law could not pertain to future technological advances. 

Promises for the ADA

In 2010, to commemorate 20 years of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the White House revised some ADA regulations for Title II and Title III organizations. This revision promised that ADA compliance is a priority of the White House and the DOJ.  

Not only did uniform enforcement increase so did the fines and requirements for organizations found to be non-compliant. In 2014 the first significant increase in ADA violations maximum penalties occurred. The DOJ increased an initial fine from $55,000 to $75,000 and instituted all secondary incidents at $150,000 (per location and offense).

The DOJ and the Human Impact

One requirement for businesses and organizations that are non-compliant is adding an ADA Coordinator position. An ADA Coordinator position brings a human aspect to an area of business that focuses on dollars and cents vs. the fundamentals of the ADA. 

Also, in 2016 the Department of Justice Office of Civil Rights brought another human aspect to impact ADA compliance by creating Beyond The Cases: 26 Years of the Americans with Disabilities Act. This impactful piece helped organizations understand why ADA compliance is vital to the independence of Americans with disabilities. 

Beyond the Cases brought an emotional and human side to the importance of being ADA compliant in all areas. This also comes at a time when organizations and consumers are focusing on social responsibilities

COVID-19 and The Digital Revolution

There was no better test for equal access to goods, services, and information than the onset of COVID. The American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) shared the Journey Forward on April 13, 2022. The report looks at the impact of COVID-19 on adults in the US with blindness, low vision, and who are deafblind. This report follows Flatten Inaccessibility from September 2020. 

The level of inaccessibility from healthcare to education to essential services is still alarming. But, there is hope as the government now can see the impact COVID had on an entire community that relies on digital access and equality for independence, employment, and health and wellbeing. 

ADA Clarifications

It is important to note that under Enforcement Activities (subtitle Settlements), the Unified Agenda did not appear to affect the number of settlements. However, a notable decrease in 2021 could be in part to COVID. But, there is a lack of ADA Digital Compliance settlements, as indicated below, from 2016-to 2020.

The approximate number of all settlements from 2022-2015, noting the digital noncompliance organizations.

The Future of Web Accessibility

Not all of today’s technology existed when the Americans with Disabilities Act was created over 30 years ago. But, that doesn’t mean that the law shouldn’t evolve with the times. The DOJ published guidance on web accessibility to clarify what is expected in organizations’ online presence.

We need digital accessibility now more than ever. The DOJ’s recent web accessibility guidance is just the next step in improving the rights of people with disabilities. Standards of accessibility will continue to evolve as technology changes. Organizations are conducting business more frequently online and need to ensure that everyone has equal access to their goods, services, and information.

Christine Sket

Christine Sket has always lived in a world reliant on accessibility efforts. Born to parents with blindness, Christine learned earlier than many about the need for civil rights laws and inclusion. She devotes her life to advocating for people with visual and cognitive disabilities. Christine is Braille Works’ Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) subject matter expert and shares her knowledge about laws, life experiences, and moving toward a more inclusive society.

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