DOJ Makes Accessibility More Confusing

A seemingly confused monkey scratching it's head.

Just yesterday, the DOJ finally responded to the two letters sent to them from members of Congress, asking for a decision on how accessibility regulations apply to private sector websites.

Existing regulations about physical accessibility have previously been applied to websites of any Government and government-funded institutions, however no official decision has ever been made on how these apply to private-sector websites. The DOJs answer was clear as mud. Here’s the meat and potatoes:

“…the ADA applies to public accommodations’ websites…”

“This interpretation is consistent with the ADA’s title III requirement that the goods, services, privileges, or activities provided by places of public accommodation be equally accessible to people with disabilities.”

So… yes? Wait for it…

“…the absence of a specific regulation does not serve as a basis for noncompliance…”

“…noncompliance with a voluntary technical standard… does not necessarily indicate noncompliance with the ADA.”

Our summary:

Public accommodation websites have to be accessible. If you deal with the public, this means you. However, the DOJ is not pointing to the WCAG guidelines as the technical standard for meeting these requirements, like they did for public sites. These are the “Voluntary Technical Standards” they’re talking about here.

They go as far as to say that failing to meet WCAG standards does not mean that you’re non-compliant with ADA requirements. This is both good and bad news for our clients who are facing lawsuits. My favorite line from the document is this: “…public accommodations have flexibility in how to comply with the ADA’s general requirements of nondiscrimination and effective communication.”

They’re telling public accommodations that their sites have to be accessible, but won’t point the finger to any guidelines that provide a measurable compliance level. They’re leaving it up to Congress to get something written into law to provide more “clarity” on the matter.

“Given Congress’ ability to provide greater clarity through the legislative process, we look forward to working with you to continue these efforts.”

This is why we, at AccessibiliBuddy, do not rely on automated scanners to tell us what’s wrong with your site. We do, of course, deploy such solutions in an effort to maintain WCAG compliance and ensure that changes to the site’s content do not cause obvious accessibility issues, but that’s only part of it. We use real users, on real devices, to test your site as only a human can.

You can read the DOJs letter for yourself here.