The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has proposed new rules designed to ensure that websites and mobile apps are accessible to people with disabilities.
The DOJ sent a notice of proposed rulemaking under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to the Federal Register that aims to improve web and mobile app access for people with disabilities and clarify how public entities – primarily state and local governments – can meet their existing ADA obligations as many of their activities shift online.
The rule would establish technical standards — like captioning videos, adding alt-text descriptions to images, and making navigation more accessible — for state and local governments’ web and mobile app-based services relating to employment, education, voting, health, public safety, court information and transportation, just to name a few.
“This proposed rule is a historic moment for the Justice Department,” said Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta. “It will help enshrine the right of Americans with disabilities to access critical information needed to lead safe, productive and prosperous lives.”
Gupta said that web accessibility can mean, among other things, offering captions, accommodating screen readers, and allowing the resizing of text. He noted that the proposal also includes a “specific technical standard” for web and mobile app accessibility.
The proposed rule, the DOJ says, is particularly significant in the wake of the pandemic, as public entities have increased the scope of essential services and programs offered through the web and mobile apps. It is critical for these technologies to be accessible for people with disabilities.
“This marks the first time in the history of the Americans with Disabilities Act that the Justice Department has issued a proposed rule on website accessibility,” said Attorney General Merrick Garland.
The Justice Department has been pressured for years by businesses, disability advocates and government officials to adopt regulations – and not simple guidance – that clarify how the ADA applies to websites.
It’s been more than a decade since the DOJ first issued its notice of proposed rulemaking on website accessibility, and nearly five years since the department announced that it was withdrawing that same rulemaking and technical guidance. The DOJ’s decision to abandon its rulemaking caused uncertainty for businesses, retailers and owners and operators of public websites as to what, if any, benchmarks they must meet to comply with ADA requirements.
The DOJ invites public comment on the proposed rule once it is published. The comment period will be open for 60 days from the date the proposed rule is published.