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DOJ Cancels Proposed Web Accessibility Guidelines – Why That’s OK

By: Aylin Dunham
Know the rules

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On December 26, 2017, the Department of Justice announced that their pending rulemaking notices on web accessibility were officially withdrawn. However disappointing this is, it doesn’t really matter. Websites still legally need to be accessible, and guidelines already exist outside the ADA.

Some Background on Web Accessibility Rulemaking

In 2010 the DOJ began the process of addressing web accessibility guidelines in title II and III of the Americans with Disabilities Act by issuing a notice of proposed rulemaking.

In 2015 the DOJ optimistically stated that the new rules would be announced early 2016. Instead, they delayed the new rules and issued a supplemental notice of proposed rulemaking (SANPRM) which was intended to gather more feedback from the public. The information they had gathered from their initial notice in 2010 was outdated due to the pace of change in technology.

Now the DOJ has withdrawn all notices pertaining to title II and title III of the ADA.

Reason for Withdrawal of Proposed Web Accessibility Guidelines

In a statement, the DOJ explains they have withdrawn these rulemaking documents in order to further evaluate the necessity and appropriateness of such regulations. This does not mean there will or will not be any further proposals issues in the future; it is simply withdrawing the existing ones.

This comes as a disappointment to accessibility supporters and the businesses covered by the ADA, who were looking for more clarity and guidance. With courts continuing to rule in favor of accessible websites, many hoped these regulations would help them prevent future lawsuits and solve ongoing ones.

The absence of these canceled regulations does not, however, mean that businesses are not liable under the ADA and other regulations outside the ADA. Accessibility is a civil right, and with existing web accessibility guidelines such as WCAG 2, developers are not lacking guidance on how to accommodate disabilities.

Other Laws Require Web Accessibility Too

First of all, Title III of the ADA already contains general non-discriminatory requirements that cover public accommodations and ensure equal access for the disabled. Other laws also mandate accessibility, including state laws and Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act. New regulations from the Rehabilitation Act go into effect January 18th, 2018 which syncs with the existing WCAG 2 guidelines.

Web Accessibility guidelines and best practices are already clear through WCAG 2. Input from the DOJ is not necessary to build accessible websites. Lawsuits can be avoided by following WCAG 2. It costs a lot less to make a website accessible than it does to hire the lawyers to defend you in an accessibility lawsuit.

What is WCAG 2.0?

WCAG 2 is a set of guidelines published in 2008 by the Wold Wide Web Consortium’s (W3C) Web Accessibility Initiative. W3C is the primary organization that provides international standards for the Internet.  WCAG 2 covers everything relating to making web content accessible to those with disabilities, including the deaf, blind and people with mobility issues.