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Web Accessibility SANPRM: How to Make Your Voice Heard

By: Art Morgan
website accessibility rules

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As we noted in May, the Department of Justice (DOJ) delayed issuing proposed rules related to web accessibility, which were anticipated to be released this year. This was a big disappointment to most of us in the accessibility community. Having a standardized, codified set of accessibility guidelines that we can follow when designing and creating websites and web content would make things easier for everyone.

Web Accessibility Cost-Benefit Analysis

In May the DOJ issued what is known as an SANPRM, publishing a new set of questions regarding the proposed web accessibility rules and opening a public comment period. After a thorough reading of the 123 questions in the SANPRM, it appears to me that the main reason for the delay is the DOJ’s lack of confidence in the cost/benefit data that it had gathered to date regarding web accessibility. This is disappointing on several levels. As I have argued in the past, accessibility is a civil right that (like other civil rights that promote diversity) creates huge dividends for the general public, not just for those the rights are intended to protect. Each year that passes without implementing and enforcing new web accessibility guidelines, we are constraining productivity and holding back our economy.

While putting together a cost-benefit analysis for web accessibility may sound like a daunting task, from the DOJ’s perspective it is really just a matter of collecting quality data on both the costs and benefits. The DOJ will hire an economic analysis firm to do the calculations and analysis; the input provided will help them understand. Here is a summary of the costs and benefits.

The Costs of Web Accessibility
  • Acquisition of content management systems (CMS), learning management systems (LMS), and online video platforms (OVP) that make it easier to implement accessibility standards
  • Training for staff on how to create and add accessible content
  • Costs of transcribing and captioning video
  • Remediation or replacement of old content and tools that are inaccessible
Benefits of Web Accessibility
  • Time savings for both people with disabilities and all others who use the websites and content
  • Improvements in learning outcomes and increased efficiency in the learning process
  • Improved graduation rates
  • Greater productivity in the workforce due to improved education for a broader population
  • Benefits of increased diversity in the workforce

If you are interested to see what this type of cost-benefit analysis looks like (it is more formally known as a “regulatory impact analysis”), this regulatory impact analysis from 2008 covers the cost-benefit analysis of accessibility regulations for the built environment. It is a fairly conservative analysis, including only time savings benefits for people with disabilities, yet it shows a strong positive net benefit. The net benefit of implementing WCAG 2 Level AA web accessibility standards would likely be even higher, especially if benefits to the general population are taken into account.

The good news is that we now have another chance to make our voices heard. Comments must be submitted by October 7. If you have any experience with web accessibility, whether it be as a designer, developer, researcher, user, or someone who hires developers of accessible websites or works with web technology vendors, please take this opportunity to provide input to the DOJ.

With this SANPRM the DOJ is splitting the proposed rulemaking into two phases. This first phase is for Title II organizations, which includes public colleges and universities in any U.S. state or territory, public schools, and government entities.  If you work for or have worked with an organization in this category, your comments and expertise will be of particular interest to the DOJ.

How to Comment

This post is intended to supplement this excellent blog post by Lainey Feingold, which outlines several different ways to submit comments on the web accessibility SANPRM. In particular, we try to highlight below areas where many CaptionSync customers and partners are likely to have knowledge and experience that would be of interest to the DOJ.  If you are willing to comment publicly and you are good with web forms, you can upload or cut and paste your comments using this submission form for the SANPRM.  Read these tips from the government on submitting effective comments, and prepare and save your comments in advance as a text, Word, or PDF document, to make the process easier. At the outset be sure to note briefly your experience with web accessibility of public sector websites and content management systems, and any relevant qualifications or positions that you have held.

What  Questions to Comment On

Comments do not need to be long or formal. If you have comments that relate to just one or two of the DOJ’s questions, please submit them. You do not need to spend days or weeks answering every question. If you know of public links to data, research, or other information that supports your position, be sure to include those links. What follows is a summary of specific questions that CaptionSync users, customers, and partners may have experience with, and may wish to comment on.

  • Questions 2, 8, 9 and 48-51 address the WCAG 2 Level (A, AA, or AAA), which level is most appropriate for this regulation, and possible alternatives. The DOJ is currently considering Level AA as the proposed standard, with some exceptions.
  • Question 3 addresses the effective date of the regulation. The current proposal is to make the regulations enforceable two years after the publication of a final rule, with some exceptions.
  • Question 4 asks whether it is likely that there will be a shortage of professionals who are proficient in web accessibility to help bring covered entities into compliance.  Given the large number of high-quality training programs on web accessibility, a shortage of qualified professionals seems unlikely or very temporary. If you are experienced with accessibility training, you should comment on this question and provide relevant links.
  • Questions 5 through 7 relates to captioning of live content. Note that the DOJ is considering allowing an additional year (three years from publication date) to become compliant with WCAG 2 Level AA’s live captioning requirement.  If you have experience with live captioning and its associated costs and benefits, you should comment on these questions.
  • Questions 10-19 and 116-122 relate to possible deferrals or exceptions for entities with a small jurisdiction (for example, entities serving districts with a total population of less than 50,000), special districts, or small entities.
  • Questions 20-22 relate to the definition of “archived web content” and “preexisting conventional electronic documents,” such as Adobe PDF or Microsoft Word documents. The DOJ is considering excluding such content from the web accessibility requirements under many circumstances.
  • Questions 23-32, and 37-38 relate to web content “posted by a third party” and third-party social media platforms. If you have experience with this area, such as content posted by students and its importance to the learning experience for students with disabilities, you may wish to comment on these questions.
  • Questions 39-47 relate to content in password-protected sites such as learning management systems (LMS).  If you have experience with accessibility of content in an LMS you may want to read and comment on the questions in this section.
  • Questions 52-55 relate to how to measure compliance with the requirements, including compliance for mobile applications.  If you have experience with accessibility testing tools or accessibility audits, you may wish to comment on these questions.
  • Questions 56-70 and 76-78 have to do with quantifying the benefits of web accessibility for people with disabilities. If you work in disability services, occupational therapy, or have access to data or research that demonstrate the benefits of web accessibility for people with disabilities, please review and comment on these questions.
  • Questions 71 and 72 ask commenters to note specific WCAG 2 Level AA provisions that are particularly beneficial or particularly costly.
  • Questions 73-75 ask commenters to help provide data that would help quantify the benefits of web accessibility to “other individuals and entities,” such as individuals without disabilities.  Educators, instructional designers, universal design experts, and others with access to data and research that demonstrates how accessibility helps everyone are strongly encouraged to comment on these questions.  Without your input it is likely that the cost-benefit analysis will omit these benefits, and therefore understate the benefits of the web accessibility rules.
  • Questions 79-84 relate to strategies for meeting WCAG 2 Level AA compliance, such as staff hiring and training decisions and remediation versus website redesign.  If you have experience with this type of decision, please comment on these questions.
  • Questions 85-94 relate to estimating the costs for meeting WCAG 2 Level AA compliance. If you have experience here that you would like to contribute, that would be useful to the DOJ.
  • Questions 101-104 relate to conventional electronic documents that are not “pre-existing” (see Questions 20-22 above).
  • Questions 105-112 relate to audio and video accessibility. Please review and comment on this section if you have specific experience with closed captioning or audio description.
  • Questions 113-15 relate to the benefits and costs of web accessibility for public educational institutions. If you work for, or work with public colleges, universities, or public school systems, please review this section and add any comments related to the special benefits of accessibility in education that you did not include in the above sections.

The web accessibility SANPRM can be found in its entirety here, allowing you to search for specific questions you may wish to review and comment on. While this post is quite a bit longer than our typical post, we hope this summary is useful to those of you who, like us, are working hard to break down barriers to access.