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Navigating the New Accessibility Requirements for Websites and Mobile Apps in Government

Posted on: Jun 20, 2024

In April 2024, the Attorney General signed a final rule under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Title II applies to state and local government entities, making it illegal for them to discriminate against people with disabilities. The new rule is designed to improve web and mobile app access for people with disabilities.

A rule (also called a regulation) is a checklist of guidelines that tells entities how to follow a law set by Congress. This new rule is Rule 2.1 of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), which clarifies how state and local governments can meet existing ADA requirements as many of their activities move to the digital space. The rule ensures that people with disabilities can better access important programs and activities like health care, transportation information, and education through web content and mobile apps.

What the New Accessibility Requirements for Websites and Mobile Apps Include

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) give organizations, government agencies, and businesses a framework for how to make the information on their websites accessible. It’s the international standard for web accessibility. The guidelines cover clarity, alternate text image descriptions for people who use screen readers, audio-only live alternatives, enhanced color contrast, allowing for keyboard navigation of web pages (rather than only being possible to navigate with a mouse or trackpad), and other standards that make content more accessible for users with disabilities. There’s a lot more to the guidelines than that. Read the guidelines in full here.

Web content includes text, images, video, audio, and documents that are available online. Some websites rely on images to share information, but if those images don’t have alternate text describing the image for people who are blind and use a screen reader, those people are left without access. The same goes for a PDF that includes important information but isn’t in an accessible format. Or it could be a video of a university lecture presented without subtitles or closed captioning available for site users who are deaf or hard of hearing, or videos without audio descriptions for people who are blind.

These standards will make essential services more accessible by providing clear guidelines for state and local governments to ensure compliance with the ADA.

Who the Rule Applies To

According to the ADA, Title II applies to state and local governments, as well as special purpose districts, Amtrak, and other commuter authorities. State and local governments include offices that provide social services such as food and employment services and health insurance. It also includes public schools and universities, police departments, courts, election offices, hospitals and public clinics, parks and recreation programs, libraries, and transit agencies.

It’s a long list, and for good reason. Much of the ADA was originally written to apply to in-person access to sites and buildings. But as so much of our world moves online, having more clarity on how to make the online space accessible makes a big difference. This is especially important because it helps people with disabilities access essential services, like ordering a mail-in ballot, accessing healthcare, or getting tax information. The clarifications to Title II will help increase access.

A man, sitting at a desk with a laptop and tablet, works intently. There is a cup of coffee and a green wall with plants in the background.

What the Final Rule Means for Other Published Guidelines

For the purposes of the recent attorney general’s ruling, state and local governments will need to meet WCAG 2.1, Level AA at a minimum.

It seems strange that we’re talking about Rule 2.1 going into effect when Rule 2.2 is already published too, and Rule 2.0 is still in use. Each of these rules is backward compatible, meaning they build on the others. So Rule 2.1 still includes the checklist from Rule 2.0, and Rule 2.2 adds on to both of the other rules. Within each rule, there are different levels of success criteria to help guide site managers, ranging from Level A to Level AAA in each section.

The process of creating new laws can be slow, which is why the Attorney General has made the guidelines in Rule 2.1 part of the law now, even though more guidelines have already been published. It comes down to the timing of when Rule 2.2 was published and when Rule 2.1 became part of the law.

Even though the guidelines in Rule 2.2 aren’t legal requirements like Rule 2.1 is, organizations and website managers can still start using them to make sites more accessible for all users. So as technology changes, public entities can continue to increase accessibility.

Quite a bit has changed since the ADA was first signed into law in 1990, and it’s important that legislation continues to evolve with how we live now. Compliance for Rule 2.1 will begin in April 2026, with some smaller entities having until April of 2027 to make site updates. This change to Title II of the ADA will go a long way to helping increase accessibility in these online spaces.

Interested in disability advocacy? 

Check out our Self-Advocacy Peer Groups, the Butte Disability Action Network, or the ADA Committee events on our event calendar.

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